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Embroidered Sayings

Selection of 31 linen, half-linen or cotten embroidered napkins (selected out more than 200), variable dimensions. 

Collection: Museum van de Mijnwerkerswoning, Eisden. 

The collection of embroideries at the Museum of the Miner’s House, Eisden reveals so much more than what their images and sayings portray. These decorative crafts were very popular between 1870 and 1930, and survive as material illustrations of the thoughts and mores of their era. Sewn into linen, half-linen or cotton background fabric, they were ‘washable pictures’, making them something of a novelty at the end of the 19th century. These naïve and old-fashioned looking embroideries were intended to impart wisdom through such sayings as “We can’t live from love alone.We need food on the table;” and “East or West, home is best.” They are also tangible reminders of the different people who used to live in the miners’ houses. As domestic products of female handicraft, they followed the immigrants, all equally alien to the Limburg landscape, across time and space.

Their function as protective covers for furniture and walls eventually gave way to more obvious decorative uses, adding colour to the interior decor of the workers’ houses. Simple scenes framed by roses and forget-me-nots present a clear picture of the woman of the house. They describe a set of moral standards, charting her role as wife, mother and mistress of the house. Often delivered in a commanding, admonishing manner, they advocate exemplary behaviour, diligence and frugality.

The women who made these embroideries experienced a dual connection to them: firstly, through the acts of sewing and embroidering them, as well as through their subsequent maintenance; and secondly, through their constant confrontation with the messages they bore. As a result of this ambivalence, these objects lose much of their apparent innocence or wholesomeness. After the 1950s, they found a new, silent existence at the Museum of the Miner’s House, Eisden and in private collections. JK