mending inspiration

Yesterday afternoon I took a break from grading a cardigan (a task that makes my eyes spin round) and spent a happy hour (as I often do) poking about the Rijksmuseum – which is one of those wonderful institutions who have digitised and made publicly available large portions of their collection. If you have an hour or two to spare today, you could do worse than to virtually spend it here. The search interface is easy to use (you can set the site’s language preferences to English); the image reproduction quality is superb; the information about each object is comprehensive; and the user can easily create and organise their own ‘sets’ for future reference. In making all this material publicly available, the Rijksmuseum explicitly encourages the use of its collections for creative purposes, through brilliant initiatives like the Rijksmuseum award (I encourage you to click the link and marvel at the entries for the 2017 award).

My happy hour yesterday was spent with the Rijksmuseum’s wonderful collection of darning samplers, which I explored simply using “stoplap” as a single search term (“stoppen” being Dutch for darning). I’ve written about mending a few times (most recently in Wheesht) and I often find a lot of inspiration in darning samplers generally, and eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Dutch samplers in particular. There’s aesthetic inspiration to be found in the stitches themselves, in the choices made by individual darners, and the different effects that are achieved when stabilising fabric by mimicking woven structures with a needle and thread – especially when a pattern is worked in two directions with two or more colours. There’s inspiration of an historic kind, too, as I think about the women and girls who made these stitches, their time and place in the world, what it might have meant to them to mark that moment with a needle, and their personal relationships to the work of stitching (a form of labour equally beloved and despised, performed with or without remuneration). And darning samplers also bring me a more general, more material kind of inspiration, as I reflect on the individuality and universality of experiences of making and and mending textiles across cultures and through time.

I’ve arranged this selection chronologically, which also gave me a lot to think about (just look at the mended corners!) I hope you enjoy these, and, if you’ve not already virtually visited, the Rijksmuseum.