Joseph's Dream

After a young lady learned to embroider a sampler, she might attend a female academy to make a silk embroidered picture. This was a more challenging technique that became popular in the early 1800s. Subjects included classical, biblical, and historical scenes, as well as mourning pictures.
In an oval with a 1/4" silver wire outline is Joseph, with his dog, asleep under a tree near a stream. To the right are wheat-sheaves in a field, three buildings, and three palm trees, with mountains in the distance. In the foreground are low-growing plants, some of them surrounded by areas of seed-stitching characteristic of embroidery done at Abby Wright's school in South Hadley, Massachusetts. The top third of the border is embroidered with a garland of roses and buds. The rest of the border is painted with a vine bearing sweet peas, bleeding hearts, lilies, carnations, and other flowers. The entire ground of the border is painted (watercolor) in a cream color. The picture is embroidered on a white silk ground, and the stitches used are satin, seed, straight, outline, French knot, and couching.
The subject of this embroidery is a story from the Bible found in Genesis 37 and 42. Joseph had a dream that he and his brothers were binding sheaves of grain out in the field. Suddenly his sheaf rose and stood upright, while his brothers’ sheaves gathered around his and bowed down to it. His brothers were very angry with him and sold him to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt. Joseph’s dream did come true when later in life he became governor of Egypt. A famine occurred in Canaan and his father Jacob had heard that they had grain in Egypt and sent his brothers to Egypt to buy food. When they got to Egypt they bowed down to Joseph, not realizing he was their brother.
This embroidery was not done in South Hadley at Abby Wright’s school, but in Claremont, New Hampshire, with the teacher Sophia Goodrich. Sophia was a half sister to Abby Wright and attended Abby’s school in South Hadley, Massachusetts in 1804. In November 1809, she returned to take over the school.
Lucy Dexter was born on February 4, 1796, to David and Parnel Strobridge Dexter in Claremont, New Hampshire. Lucy died unmarried on February 17, 1821. (See Almira Dexter’s embroidery.) For more information about this embroidery see Piecework, March/April 2007, “Three American Schoolgirl Silk Embroideries from the Smithsonian” by Sheryl De Jong.
Currently not on view
date made
sister of maker
Dexter, Almira
Dexter, Lucy
place made
United States: New Hampshire, Claremont
Physical Description
silk (ground material)
silk (thread material)
overall: 25 in x 32 in; 63.5 cm x 81.28 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of Eleanor and Mabel Van Alstyne
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Textiles
Embroidered Pictures
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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