Sunday, 23 August 2009

A Dutch Orphanage Sampler from a private collection

In The Goodhart Samplers, I commented on an English darning sampler, that such samplers seem to spring up fully formed at the end of the 18th century and vanish almost as abruptly by the middle of the 19th century - though on the continent they enjoyed a longer history, particularly in the Netherlands. It is a well-known fact that darning samplers in the Netherlands were worked earlier and continued in this elaborate form much later than in England. This particularly special example, belonging to friends, was worked by F Cornelissen in 1887 at the Diaconie Orphanage. In Amsterdam there were two major orphanages, the Burger (Civic) Orphanage and the Orphanage of the Nederduits Hervormde Diaconie - the Dutch Reformed Church. Orphanages taught handwork in the 19th century so that the girls could become versatile in knitting, embroidery, marking, sewing, darning and so on, in order that they would be able to support themselves when they left the orphanage, and would not starve nor have to turn to prostitution. Cloths from these institutions were well-worked with particular care. This lovely sampler has four cross-shaped darns and four star-shaped darns, interspersed with many initials. In the Civic Orphanage, the initials were stitched in a variety of colours, whereas on the Diaconie samplers a specific shade of red was employed. (Source: M G A Schipper van Lottum, Merk- en Stoplappen 1980, p 35.)

The darning sampler almost certainly began with the four bars around the centre block, darned in two different pattern weaves. It is probably that this work was followed by the star-shaped darns which have all their points worked in the same weave and their centre panels in different twills. The cross-shaped darns require more advanced skills - the one on the top right has a checked pattern with six colours and employs a Panama weave. Returning to the centre panel, the perched bird on the branch and the sprigs in the corners were embroidered with double-sided cross-stitch, with 11 stitches to the centimetre, or approximately 26 stitches per inch.
All the large initials embroidered in Algerian Eye belong to the orphanage teachers. The senior teachers were called moeder (mother), and that is why some initials begin with M. These samplers were made by girls aged between 14-16. If they completed their cloths well, then the girls would be allowed to accept work from outside.


  1. Thanks for showing us this lovely example of a darning sampler. I particularly like the first darn you have highlighted - such bright colours and so pretty!

  2. Spectacular!! Daring samplers are my absolute favourite! Thanks to you Jacqueline for showing us this wonderful example,

  3. Truly a stunning specimen. Thank you for sharing it!

  4. I would really love to learn how to make a darning sampler... can you recommend any charts or books that might help?