A Visit to the Fries Museum – Part the Third and Conclusion

A few weeks ago I visited the Fries Museum archives, and their textile conservator Gieneke Arnolli shared with me many beautiful textiles related to mending and repairing. It was the first time I saw darning samplers in real life. These samplers were educational tools for young girls, teaching them how to repair woven fabrics. However, the Fries Museum also holds many samplers for learning how to repair knitted fabrics. Needless to say that as I particularly enjoy repairing knitwear, these were possibly even more exciting than the darning samplers I shared in my previous post!

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 01a

One of many knitted darning samplers. This one stands out as it was knitted from and repaired with wool

The above knitted darning sampler is different from most of the samplers in the collection, as it was knitted from and repaired with wool. Most other samplers used cotton. Incidentally, it is also similar to the technique I used for repairing the Knitting & Crochet Guild Cardigan commission. As with most of these samplers, the back of the fabric is just as beautiful and interesting as the front.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 01b

The back shows how the sides of the hole were folded back and edges neatly trimmed

The knitted darning samplers can be split into two main categories: the first is the sampler in the shape of a sock or stocking, knitted in the round; the second is the sampler in the shape of a rectangle, knitted flat. Often, the sampler is divided into squares, using red yarn, each containing a repair. Some girls practised the same technique over and over again, whereas others show a great range of techniques.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 02a

Darning samplers in shape of stockings, one the left stocking even the cast-on edge has been repaired

Most often the repairs were executed in red yarn, although most samplers also have at least a couple of repairs in white yarn, too. The left stocking above mostly shows woven darns. In Dutch this technique has two names, depending on what is being repaired: if a hole is repaired by weaving, then it is called ‘stoppen;’ if a thin area is reinforced by weaving, then this is called ‘doorstoppen.’

The right stocking above shows mostly Swiss darning or duplicate stitching. This technique of emulating knitted stitches is called ‘mazen’ in Dutch. It also shows grafting, like the two single rows of red stitches in the right stocking above. It is a way of replacing a missing single row of stitches with a new row, using a blunt darning needle. Incidentally, you might also know grafting as a way of closing the toe on a sock, instead of binding off.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 02b


The other side of the same stockings, showing more woven darns on the left, and duplicate stitching on the right, including in ribbing pattern at the cuff

Another technique that was part of sock repair, was reknitting the heel. You can see this in the picture above in the right stocking. For this, the heel flap and heel turn (respectively called ‘big heel’ and ‘small heel’ in Dutch) is unpicked. This leaves you with a hole which has a row of live stitches at the leg side and at the foot side, and edges that were originally the picked up stitches for the gussets. The stitches at the leg side are picked up on one needle, and the edge of each gusset is also picked up on a needle each. The heel flap is knitted as normal, but at the end of each row the last stitch is worked together with a stitch from the gusset edge. Once the heel turn is worked the last row is grafted onto the live stitches at the foot end. Tadah! A new heel!

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 04a

More Swiss darning, or ‘mazen’ on this square sampler, with a variety of different stitch patterns

The most common Swiss darn is executed on thinning fabric. This is relatively simple, as you can use the original stitches as a guideline. However, it is also possible to Swiss darn a hole. I also used this technique on my Knitting & Crochet Guild commission. The sampler above was never finished, and this gives us a glimpse of the technical aspects of Swiss darning a hole. You can see that the hole is neatened, and then a foundation is layed with sewing thread. This foundation will make Swiss darning easier, as it holds the loops of the yarn in place as the rows are worked.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 04b

The back of the sampler shows that all Swiss darns filled in holes, rather than covering thinning areas. You can also see a piece of lino or floorcloth used as a temporary stabiliser

When the holes to be Swiss darned are on the larger side, then you can first baste a piece of lino or floorcloth at the back. This will prevent the hole from being stretched out of shape. At the same time the lino or floorcloth is flexible enough to allow for easier needle and fabric manipulation.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 05

A small undergarment used to practise knitwear repairs

Not all samplers take the shape of socks or squares. I particularly liked this small undergarment. It has beautiful underarm gussets, and a lovely sideseam stitch. Clearly no learning opportunity was wasted, as I’m quite sure the girls would first have to knit the sock, stocking, or other garment, before making holes in it to learn how to repair them. I think my darning workshop students get a good deal here, as I provide them with knitted squares to practise on!

The final sampler I want to share with you may not seem as a high point: at first glance it looks rather unassuming.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 07a

The most exciting darning sampler of all!

It has yellowed a lot, the top half seems rather lumpy-bumpy, and apart from the lace stitches, not much seems to be going on. Upon closer inspection, however, I discovered that the lumps are actually sock heels. Furthermore, most of this small sampler is covered in nigh-on invisible repairs.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 07b

The back is finished off very neatly

The repairs are exemplary on the front as well as the back. Very neatly finished, the repairs really are virtually invisible. I think this was a stocking sampler of sorts. Not only are there heels hiding, there’s also a seam stitch right through the middle, with calf decreases alongside it. Then there are the stitches often used in knitted stockings: two types of ribbing, and a number of fancy stitches that would work well on stockings. It’s like a deconstructed stocking, broken down in its essential elements. We will probably never know why the maker chose to do it this way, rather than by knitting an actual stocking.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my foray into darning samplers, and I would like to thank the Fries Museum and Gieneke Arnolli in particular for inviting me to see these textiles that are not on public display at the moment. I have learnt a lot from them, and their possibilities as sources of inspiration are like a map that will allow me to travel in many directions!

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.

18 Replies to “A Visit to the Fries Museum – Part the Third and Conclusion”

  1. I’ve been fascinated by your trip to the museum. I am a novice darrner and have been inspired by your photos. Thank you for sharing them.

  2. What an inspirational series of posts. Thank you so much for sharing these! Once again, I’m going to put my vote in for you to write a book about darning which I would buy in a heartbeat! I do have a question: what kind of fabric could one use for a “lino or floorcloth” – two questions, really, also what IS “lino or floorcloth”?

      1. Now I AM baffled – here in the States, linoleum is hard – comes in tiles, you have to use a carpenter’s blade to cut it…I was thinking this floorcloth was actually *cloth* that you sewed through until the darn was established and the ends of the holes had been stabilized…how do you use a hard piece of linoleum? I must lack imagination.

      2. It comes, or at least used to come, in different qualities, including thin and flimsy. Perfect as temporary backing to stabilise your fabric. The piece shown in the picture felt more like those plasticised table cloths.

      3. Aha! I never knew it came in different thicknesses! Now I’m thinking what we call oilcloth – it’s a medium-heavy cloth backed with some kind of plastic – probably like the table cloth you mentioned. Now I get it! Thanks!

  3. The samplers are amazing! I wonder how long you could make a pair of wool socks last if you kept repairing them and replacing the heels when they wore out?

  4. Thank you for all the darning sampler photos. I repair garments for benedictine monks and currently have 2 sweaters. One will need a lot of repair, time comsuming but doable. The second sweater I believe is beyond repair. I may use the yarn from that sweater to repair the first and make something new with the remaining yarn.

  5. I saw this on Barbro’s Threads when she reblogged it – and then that evening, I was reading the book Over to Candleford by Flora Thompson, and came across a passage that ties in perfectly: “…it was not until Laura had drawn the stocking over her own hand…that she saw that the heel and the instep and part of the toe were literally made of darns. The silk of the original fabric had been matched exactly…” The woman who did the darning, Dorcas Lane, says, “…one must not sit idle, that would have been setting a bad example; but cutting holes in a stocking foot and darning them up again was considered industrious. Be glad you weren’t born in those days.”
    There’s a little more to the passage too. It was published about 1945 so it’s not in the public domain yet, but it is available as an e-book. This quote is on p 370 out of 537 in the e-book trilogy. You may know of it, but I just wanted to mention it in case you didn’t. You may want to use the quote when you write your darning book! 🙂

  6. I have been trying to track down information on the history of darning/knitting. You wouldn’t happen to have a possible date of these samples.

  7. Hi there, I am from Holland (the Netherlands) and collect historical knitting….I happen to see this on the internet….I know for sure that these darning samples were made in the first half of the 20th century, about 1920/1930….you still see lots of them in our country…..so nice you pay attention………:-) Thanks!

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