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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.