As much how-to as history, this tasteful British import offers adaptations of old embroidery samplers. Originally intended as ""a reference library of stitches,"" the sampler changed from a fashionable 16th-century specialty item to a Victorian child's less imaginative rite. Along the way, some exceedingly fine and distinctive pieces were made. Dorothea Kay traces the styles and popularity of samplers through nearly four centuries, provides expert commentary on traditional practices, and suggests projects for many different techniques, including darning and Hollie point (needle-made lace). Instructions for basic stitches are introduced as needed, and reversible stitches--which make a cleaner back--are included for the more accomplished. Beginners should be wary: several patterns here are derived from pieces in London's Victoria and Albert Museum and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge; they require diligence and facility. But for lovers of fine embroidery, this competent, gracious sampling is a special find.