Today I would like to share some more from my visit to the Fries Museum. This was the first time I got to see darning samplers in real life; after reading about them, and seeing pictures of them on the internet and in books, it was a very exciting day for me!
As I’m still learning about darning samplers – I’m by no means an expert – I can share with you some of the things as I understand them at this point in time. And of course, loads of pictures!
‘Door myn gedaan / Maria Catrina Droowe’ with elaborate borders, and darning on each corner as well as the easier darns in the middle of the fabric
Many, if not most, girls were taught useful needlecrafts. This seemed to consist in the very least of sewing, knitting, and repairing woven and knitted fabrics. Other skills that were often taught were marking of linen with initials or little symbols in order to identify items during laundry day, and fine needlecrafts such as embroidery, needlepoint, crochet, netting, tatting, etc. The basic skills were needed for any girl seeking employment as a maid, or other household help. However, any lady would also have to learn these things as part of their education in becoming a useful wife. The fine needlecrafts were deemed essential for the ladies in a household, as it would allow them to be occupied, show off their elegant hands, and make things to sell at bazaars to other ladies, all in aid of any number of charitable causes.
‘Johanna Scholtens / anno 1778’ with the letters picked out in eyelet embroidery
In Dutch we have a number of different words for darning, being more descriptive of the technique used:
‘stoppen’ = repairing a hole in woven or knitted fabric by means darning, i.e. by weaving in a patch.
‘doorstoppen’ = repairing a thin patch in a woven fabric by reweaving the thin area in the weave pattern of the original fabric. This is sometimes called ‘damask darning’ in English, although that term is also used for a similar technique for decorative purposes.
‘mazen’ = repairing knitted fabric, by means of Swiss darning or duplicate stitching techniques, which emulates the knit stitches.
And for completeness: a ‘stoplap’ is a darning sampler.
Darning sampler close-up, showing an emulated knitted patch in the top right corner
A number of the darning samplers in the Fries Museum contain a woven patch that emulates knitting, like the one in the top-right in the close-up picture above. Gieneke Arnolli, the textile conservator of the museum was most intrigued by these, and has examined them up close. It turns out that these are made by first spanning threads across from left to right, and then this ground was filled in with a stem stitch, one column slanting to the left, the next slanting to the right, etc. Like the example above, some even have a ‘seam stitch’ column in them. The seam stitch in sock knitting refers to a column of purl stitches at the back of the leg.
A darning star
Some of the samplers have a beautiful darn in the middle, with points radiating out as a star. I don’t know if this was purely decorative, or had a practical purpose as well. The sampler above also shows a number of darns to be used on a variety of checked fabrics used for tea towels etc. I know these patterned textiles as ‘Brabants bont’ (‘Brabantian multi-colour’) – another province of The Netherlands known for their textiles; in fact, the Textile Museum in Tilburg is in the province of Brabant.
Henrica Deutelius 1773 – front; notice the mistake in the letter N
Henrica Deutelius – 1773 – back
Having the darning samplers right in front of me meant I could inspect the back as well as the front. It’s an urge that I’m sure many an embroiderer will recognise! What’s immediately obvious are the little looped fringes on the edge of each darn. These loops are created when turning around to work your way back. As the fabric being repaired usually has been washed a number of times, it will have shrunk in the process. However, the darns are made with new threads, probably never washed, so the loops will allow for the darned patch to shrink when eventually it is washed, without pulling the fabric around it together. I could also see (and confirmed this in some of the old needlecraft books) that the edges of a hole would be trimmed to have straight edges, cut right along one thread. Once the darning is complete, the fabric threads will have nowhere to go, and thus the edges require no further finishing off.
Catharina Alida Kiers – 1782
There are two interesting things about the darning sampler by Catharina Alida Kiers. First of all, you can see that one of the darns has developed a hole. This is most likely due to the dye used to make the black thread. Synthetic dyes didn’t come into existence for another seventy years or so, and therefore the black was probably achieved by using black walnut. This dye actually slowly damages the fibre over time, and you will often see that old textiles are more fragile, or have started to disintegrate, in the areas of black or dark brown colour.
The other thing to note about this sampler, is that it uses some of the same darning patterns, and has the same crest above and border around the name as the sampler made by Henrica Deutelius above. These kind of features allow textile historians to trace samplers back to a specific area and learn more about their provenance. In all likelihood these girls went to the same school, or at least had the same ‘useful needlecraft’ teacher.
Darning sampler with challenging darns at the edges and corners
Many darning samplers not only have darns in the middle of the fabric, but also at the edges or even corners. This is a more challenging darn, and they were achieved by temporarily sewing some card or stiff paper on the back of the hole, which will help as an aid to span the threads across. As you can see in the examples here, getting the tension right is really difficult, and I think if this sampler were ever to be washed, they would pull together even more.
I hope you enjoyed seeing some of these samplers as much as I did, and I’d like to finish this post with an observation that Gieneke made: although many girls were taught how to make beautifully inconspicuous darns, the many items of clothing in the Fries Museum collection show that once they had finished school, these girls either didn’t have the time or inclination to apply their skills: many skirts and shirts show hastily executed darns, only there to fill in a gap in any old way possible.
Also keep an eye out to my third blog post, in which I will share some of the knitted darning samplers – all I can say is: you’re in for a treat!
With many thanks to the Fries Museum and Gieneke Arnolli for allowing me to take pictures and giving me permission to share them on my blog.