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Unit 1 - The Human Landscape

Lesson plan
Activity - A Stitch in Time


The word ‘sampler' comes from the French word ‘exemplaire', meaning a model or pattern to work by. Stitching samplers was typical school and homework for girls in the 1880s, when all clothing and household linen had to be stitched and decorated by hand. A sampler was evidence of a girl's skill with a needle. The most common sampler stitch was cross-stitch and often alphabets and numbers were neatly stitched above the girl's name, along with the completion date of the sampler.


Students create their own traditional sampler pattern using graph paper and then apply the pattern to a piece of cloth using traditional cross-stitch techniques.


  • understand and successfully complete a set of instructions
  • recognise different assignments and homework were given to boys and girls in the past
  • understand school assignments for girls were aimed at developing domestic skills
  • create a basic sampler pattern using letters and/or numbers
  • transfer the pattern to a piece of cloth using a needle and thread


Exhibit title - Embroidery Sampler

Location - The Human Landscape, section 2

This activity relates to the embroidery sampler, stitched by Canberra school girl Margaret Shumack in 1887, located in section 2 (refer to map supplied in National Capital Exhibition Interpretation Guide).


  • student activity sheet
  • colour image of historic sampler
  • colour pencils
  • lead pencil
  • calico cloth approximately 30cm x 30cm
  • masking tape
  • scissors
  • stranded cotton
  • tapestry needle (size 22)


  1. Introduce the topic by setting the scene with the class. Use the image of a traditional sampler in the 1900s to explain what a sampler is.
  2. Hand out student activity sheet.
  3. Students design their initials, or a single letter, on the activity sheet graph paper.
  4. Students then convert their graph paper design on to a piece of calico cloth using a needle and thread.
    • Note: Students can use a pencil to lightly draw an X onto the cloth to assist in the stitching process.
  5. To stop the edges of the cloth from fraying, line the edge of the material with masking tape.
  6. Stitching the design on to calico works best with a sharp needle. If you prefer the students to use a needle that is not sharp, then substitute the calico with hessian which is coarse enough to allow easy stitching with a blunt needle.
  7. The level of complexity for each design will be based on the student's cognitive ability.
    A basic design has been included on the activity sheet and, if required, can be adapted as part of the lesson for less confident students.