Inspired by Darning Samplers

I was contacted by a lovely lady from Holland who told me that my sampler looked familiar...

I do not know how many of you still darn socks – I don’t. Like so many of us, I can be wasteful with clothing and throw away items that perhaps could be mended. Maybe it was my time as a nurse that put me off. I can still remember darning my black stockings that I used to wear as part of my uniform and still recall how uncomfortable the stocking felt after mending. I suspect this was much to do with my lack of talent and application. I still feel I am a stitcher rather than a sewer!

Pattern darning is a true skill and some of the stitchers who created the samplers in the photographs were true artists. Clothing and other apparel was highly valued in past times and to be able to create invisible darns was much sought after. With modern textiles, much of our clothes are much more durable than in earlier times so that darning is not considered a necessary skill. In past times, this skill was valued very highly, and sampler makers demonstrated this with wonderful samplers. 

I am very pleased to have some darning samplers in my own collection. The large Dutch sampler shown below was purchased from an avid textile collector at a trade fair in Germany. I was quite unable to resist the charming Adam and Eve motif and all the gorgeous patterns. I had shared this sampler before in Linen Love and I was contacted by a lovely lady from Holland who told me that the sampler was familiar and asked would I like to know more. Would I?! I will let Nelleke tell you what she found out…

Dear Jane,

I had no trouble finding your girl!

She was called Johanna Catharina van Lith and she was born June 14, 1855. Her parents were Abram van Lith en Dirkkie Pits (AVL and DP in the sampler).

At six years old, Johanna Catharina was admitted to the Protestant orphanage in Amsterdam (the Diaconie Weeshuis), with her elder brother Abram. She was married in 1882. That gives you her signature as well. I think she was better with a needle than with a pen. 

Your sampler is very typical for this orphanage. That is why I thought I would be able to identify it for you. Amsterdam had another orphanage where beautiful samplers were made (the Burgerweeshuis), and also a training school (the Werk-en Leerschool); the samplers are quite similar and at the same time recognizably different. What is unusual about your sampler is the picture of Adam and Eve in the centre. In this period and in these schools, it is mostly birds and flowers, cute dogs and shepherdesses, Berlin woolwork-style (but executed in silk). Not a biblical scene, and especially not in 17th-18th century style. Thank you for letting me see your sampler, and kind regards.”

I’m thrilled to know more about the person behind my sampler, and just look at that wonderful ledger. 

Thank you to Rebecca Scott of Witney Antiques who shared some darning images with me.

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