TRC 2018.0466), is based on the alphabet and is worked in cross stitch using a red cotton thread on a linen back ground. It was made in March 1909 when Johanna was nine years old. The mystery is the fact that her collection also contains a sampler dated 1912 (TRC 2018.0467), which is almost identical to the one made in 1909.A recent donation to the TRC came with a little mystery. It was a box of beautiful Dutch samples and samplers. They were said to be all made by the donor’s grandmother, a woman named Wilhelmina Johanna Wijers. She was born in 1900 in Arnhem and known within the family as Johanna or Anna. The earliest dated sampler (
Johanna was an intelligent student, but she had to leave school when she was 13, to work for her father and others. She also had a younger sister. The grandchildren knew the younger sister as Tante Zus (‘Aunt sister’). Her real name has long been forgotten. Forgotten, that is, until the TRC staff began examining the earlier samplers.
All girls at the beginning of the 20th century were taught embroidery, for practical more than artistic reasons. They made samples and samplers. Some samplers featured the alphabet, with numbers stitched beneath the letters. The maker could use this sampler to show potential employers that she could read and also add, subtract and multiply—and, of course, that she could sew and mend clothing. Such samplers were a textile curriculum vitae. Johanna’s school samplers progressed from alphabets to decorative darning, mostly with a background of cloth with red stripes produced in Germany for Dutch and German embroidery teachers.
The new collection of samples and samplers not only contains two identical, very simple samplers with letters and numbers, but also another set of virtually identical samplers, with ornate letters and numbers (TRC 2018.0469 and TRC 2018.0470). Why did Johanna as a child make two identical samplers of the alphabet and two with more complicated letters? This was a puzzle, until someone looked more closely at the samplers, initials and dates.
The set of two simple samplers has different initials that identify the embroideress. One of them reads J. Wijers Arnhem Maart 1909, the other A W Arnhem 1912. Considering the (limited) skill required for these simple samplers, the girls were probably around nine years old when they stitched their samplers. Johanna ('J' for Johanna), who was born in 1900, made her sampler in 1909. Someone else ('A') worked her sampler in 1912. Her surname started with 'W', probably short for Wijers. Could this have been the younger sister?
This younger sister could also have made the second of the set of far more ornate samplers. These samplers have no initials nor dates. But why would the same person make two almost identical samplers?
The puzzle is a little closer to being solved —the identical samplers were made by two different girls. They were Johanna and, perhaps, her younger sister, whose (official) name probably started with an 'A'.
Maybe the TRC should change its initials to the (textile) C.S.I.?
Shelley Anderson, Saturday 3rd March 2018