Monday 11 March 2013

Buttonholes and Patching

This textile story is about my Great Grandmother Mabel Naylor and a sewing sampler that she created one hundred and twenty two years ago when she was 19 years old.  If you look carefully, you can see, very faintly, her initials MN in minute cross-stitch on the enlarged photograph of the sampler.

Mabel Naylor’s family was thoroughly Yorkshire.  Her father Matthew Naylor was born on November 9th 1833 in Halifax and married Eliza (maiden name not known) in 1860 after which they moved to Bingley. Mable had three siblings. George, the eldest was born in 1861 but only lived until he was 18. We don’t know the cause of his death. Then came Matthew Henry (1863) and Charles (1866). Tragically both these brothers were killed in the school playground when a boiler exploded in 1869. They were aged just 6 and 4.

My Great Grandmother was born on May 19th 1872 and lived until she was ninety-nine.  Mabel trained as a primary school teacher and the 1891 census records her as being a pupil teacher in Haworth.  This is the same year she painstakingly created this incredible sewing sampler.

I recently learnt that the later years of the 19th century saw a move away from embroidered samplers to plain sewing samplers just like this one.  They were often made in lessons taught in school that showcased the maker’s needlework skills such as hemming, gathering, darning, buttonholes, patching and simple embroidery.  All these skills are evident on this sampler.  I do wonder if Mabel made this piece to demonstrate these needlework skills to her pupils?

We know very little about Mabel’s day-to-day life as a pupil teacher except that she was skilled at needlework.   These photographs are enlarged to show the stitching in detail.  In reality, the stitches are tiny and beautifully precise. 



When I look at this sampler - that has survived numerous house moves since her death in 1971, stored in boxes, attics and garages I can’t ever imagine producing something like this myself.  I have not inherited Mabel’s needlework skills or patience but I do appreciate how precious this sampler is and hope that one day my grandchildren might also look at it and be in awe of their great, great, great grandmother’s skill.


        Mabel Nyler 1948. Aged 76


 Lucy Clough, University of Chester



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