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Posts Tagged ‘darning sampler’

Last year I went to the Fries Museum to see their collection of darning samplers. Little did I know that almost a year later, I would own my own antique darning sampler. Note: if you want to see the following pictures in close-up, simply click on them to see the larger version.

Darning Sampler 1892 Front

My darning sampler was started in 1892 by ‘EAE’, but never finished. I have very little additional information about it

A good excuse to read up on darning samplers and I’d like to share with you some of the things I’ve learnt.

Making darning samplers seemed to be particularly popular in The Netherlands, although you find them also in other countries. What follows comes from Dutch books that specifically talk about darning samplers (listed below) and reflect how things were in The Netherlands; I can only assume things might’ve been similar elsewhere.

Darning samplers seem to have been part of any girl’s education, rich or poor. All women were supposed to help out with household tasks, which included maintenance of clothes and linens. Girls and women ought to keep themselves occupied with useful things, and for those who needed to supplement their income, needlework was a respectable way of earning some extra money.

Darning sampler 1892 fancy darn front

A fancy darn with different patterns in the arms of the cross

Girls were often sent to a small girls’ boarding school (they were often called “French Boarding School” as the girls were also taught French), where needlework was part of the curriculum. It was also taught at orphanages to ensure orphaned girls would be able to look after themselves once they left. For those girls who were too busy during the day (they might have a job as a maid, or help run a household), there were also evening darning and sewing classes.

Needlecraft lessons included embroidery, knitting, sewing, and mending. Often girls started with a cross stitch sampler, practising the letters of the alphabet. Many households sent their laundry to the laundry house and by marking all the linen, they could all be returned cleaned and bleached to the rightful owners. Often these samplers started with the alphabet repeated a few times (making sure the letters were embroidered exactly the same and lined up: an exercise in counting the threads), and then little motifs were added, which could be used for decorative purposes.

As I understand it, girls started with the easier embroidery sampler first, and then moved on to the darning sampler. And in the darning sampler there was also a build-up of complexity in technique. One started off with damask darning, which is nowadays still used as a decorative technique. This simply required the darner to pick up threads from the sound fabric. You can see this in the centre square of my sampler: each of the borders show a different damask darning pattern.

Darning sampler 1892 centre square front

The centre square shows the relatively easy technique of damask darning

Darning sampler 1892 centre square back

The back of the centre square shows that using star stitch (a reversible stitch) for the initials and numbers makes for a very neat finish

After the damask darn they moved on to the real deal: darning across an actual hole. A hole was neatly cut out and the edges whipped to stop them from fraying. First all the vertical threads (the warp, so to speak) were put across the hole by starning some simple damask darning a bit away from the hole, span the thread across the hole and then darn in a bit more on the other side. When turning direction to work back, a little loop was left at the end. Used linen was usually washed a lot, so wouldn’t shrink anymore, but the new darning thread used for the repair would shrink upon the first wash, so these loops allowed for that. The horizontal threads were woven in in a similar fashion, weaving them over and under the warp threads. The first hole (top right in my sampler) would be done in a simple even weave, and then slowly the complexity increased to other weave patterns, such as twill weaves, bird’s eye, satin, and checks.

Darning sampler 1892 even weave darn front

An even weave darn. The irregularity suggests this might have been the first proper darn made on the sampler

Darning sampler 1892 even weave darn back

The back shows whip stitched edges, loops to allow for shrinkage, and also a decorative hem

Colours and materials for repair change through the centuries according to fashion. These practice darns were usually done in coloured threads on a plain white or unbleached ground, so that it was easy to see what you were doing, but also allowing the teacher to spot any mistakes more readily. Old darning samplers often used fine silks, linen or cotton threads on a linen or cotton ground. Less common was the use of wool, although it became more popular when the ‘Berlin wools’ came into fashion for needlepoint. Older darning samplers were often executed with very fine threads, and the holes repaired were rather large and therefore presented a real challenge. The threads used are slowly getting a bit less fine, and likewise the fabric used became coarser throughout the centuries; the variety of techniques seemed to go down as well. Old darning samplers included complex repairs at the edge of the fabric, and the most difficult of all was the darning of a corner. A length of ribbon or tape was used as a corner edge, which was sometimes removed after the darn was completed. Later darning samplers don’t show these complicated repairs, and also the size of the holes to be darned became smaller. This could be due to a number of reasons, but one of them is that for larger holes and corners a sewn-in patch is a much stronger repair than a hand-sewn darn could ever be.

Darning sampler 1892 bird's eye darn front

A bird’s eye darn in two colours

Darning sampler 1892 bird's eye darn back

The bird’s eye darn looks just as neat at the back

My darning sampler seems to be typical of its time: no complex edge or corner darns, and none of the holes are larger than 3x3cm. For whatever reason, this one was left unfinished. One darn in the lower left corner only has the warp threads darned in in a herringbone pattern, and there also the start of repairing a diagonal slash. This repair was complicated, as the edges of the slash are on the diagonal, so liable to stretch out. This darning sampler would’ve been worked on over a good few months. Girls would usually have darning lessons a few hours a week, and it took them about a year to complete a sampler. I will never know why my darning sampler was never finished, but the research in the books I have show that often girls either couldn’t afford the fees, or were not able to attend classes due to other duties taking higher priority. In the country side for instance, there were no lessons during harvest time as everybody, young and old, had to help bring in the harvest.

Darning sampler 1892 unfinished darn

 

The start of a herringbone darn, shown on the back

Darning sampler 1892 diagonal slash darn front

The vertical threads were already completed on this diagonal slash, and the horizontal threads were just started

Darning sampler 1892 diagonal slash darn back

The diagonal slash darn is the only one that shows a knot

The mystery remains, and that is part of the beauty of it. Even if I don’t know a thing about who made this sampler or why it was never completed, it represents an important part of young women’s social history, and will provide me with food for thought and inspiration for years to come.

Darning sampler 1892 back

The back of the darning sampler shows neat finishes

Short bibliography (apologies to non-Dutch readers, but all these books are in Dutch):

Kipp, A; Schipper-van Lottum, MGA; Van der Vlerk, L. Nuttig en Fraai; Zuidhollandse merk- en stoplappen. Becht, Haarlem, 1987.

Schipper-van Lottum, MGA. Merk- en Stoplappen; schoolwerk van Amsterdamse meisjes uit vier eeuwen. Second print, Wereldbibliotheek, Amsterdam, 1980

Schipper-van Lottum, MGA. Stop- en borduurlappen; geschiedenis en techniek. Becht, Haarlem, 1987.

Smith-Sanders, B. Merk- en Stoplappen uit het Burgerweeshuis Amsterdam. Venlo, 2013.

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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!

Fries Museum stoplap darning sampler 1

‘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.

Fries Museum stoplap darning sampler 2

‘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.

Fries Museum stoplap darning sampler 9

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.

Fries Museum stoplap darning sampler 4

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.

Fries Museum stoplap darning sampler 7

Henrica Deutelius 1773 – front; notice the mistake in the letter N

Fries Museum stoplap darning sampler 7b

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.

Fries Museum stoplap darning sampler 10

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.

Fries Museum stoplap darning sampler 11

 

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.

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