Lea Wait is the author of the Mainely Needlepoint series, the Shadows Antique Print mystery series and historical novels for ages 8 and up. Living and Writing on the Coast of Maine is her series of essays on the writer’s life. Learn more about Lea and her books at her website.
Have You Fixed your Winklehawks and Barn-Doors?
Yes – in the world of sewing there really are such things. In the early nineteenth century and before, fabric was valuable. Fabrics were either woven at home, which took time, or purchased at great cost. So when a piece of clothing was torn, repairs were essential.
Repairs should be invisible, so the clothing could continue to be worn. When the fabric was so worn it could no longer be repaired, it was either unwoven (as with wool) and re-used, or, at minimum, re-purposed, into hooked or braided rugs, quilts, or clothes for children.
Learning to mend clothing and strengthen weak fabric, was an essential skill for young women of most classes. Either at home or in schools for young ladies, girls were taught how to mend, or darn, fabrics of various textures.
And if you’re wondering – “winklehawks” were L-shaped tears, and “barn-doors” were holes. An experienced stitcher could mend tears and holes by perfectly simulating the cloth’s weave, so the mend was invisible. (The most difficult problems to repair were corners, where not many threads were left to work with.)
To learn these skills, girls practiced on “darning samplers.” An instructor would tear cloth in various ways, and the young lady’s task was to repair each hole or tear so it could not be seen. Once this exercise was completed to the satisfaction of the instructor, the girl might add a little embroidery to her work, and sometimes the result was framed.
Very different from the usual samplers done to illustrate mastery of embroidery stitches, these darning samplers, particularly done in Holland and Great Britain, can sometimes be found at antique shows or auctions, and are examples of the practical arts of the past.
Thread the Halls
A Mainely Needlepoint Mystery, book 6
There’s little time for Angie Curtis and her beau, Patrick West to linger under the mistletoe. Angie is determined that this should be a perfect Christmas – and so is Patrick’s mother, a Hollywood actress who envisions a Maine Christmas as a Currier & Ives print. Patrick and Angie work to set the stage for the holiday, but no one scripts the addition of a body in a snow drift to the holiday festivities.
(Click here for a free prequel to Thread the Halls.)