This fine Dutch darning sampler was hiding some interesting history. It was made by Catharina van Erven in 1831, a shoemakers daughter. She wrought her full name and put plenty of initials of possible family on her piece.To 'read' the sampler, the bottom row of initials was important to determine the right girl with the right sets of initials.
It turned out that Catharina was born in 1815 in Goirle, a village near Tilburg in the province of Brabant. IVE stands for her father Johannes van Erven . AVR stands for her mother Anna van Raak. She died in childbirth in 1819. Catharina's father died six years later. Oh dear, that made Catharina being an orphan.
Than the third initial was of her deceased grandfather and fourth and fifth set of initials were of her sister and brother, who both died as a young child. Leaving Catharina all by herself. Than the last two initials stand for her uncle Gerardus B. and her aunt Catharina v E. who were fortunately still alive when this sampler was made. It would make sense that after 1825, or earlier, the family took care of little Catharina. File closed.
No, there was more because the sampler has seven further pairs of initials that might point to a school or other institute (an orphanage?) To find this out would be interesting and pretty tough...
The 'S' though, the first letter of a total of four initials indicated the meaning of Soeur or Sister. Next problem was were to look in Brabant? The province had many convents, but only few samplers to compare with** and no previous research... Luckily we found PFW and CFS (at the top, above the All seeing eye!) which stands for Pater (Father) Fransicus Wauters and his assistant CFS who were rector and father confessor of the congregation of Franciscan Sisters in Oirschot. This convent had centuries long history. They had to flee to a safer place ( being Oirschot) in the late 18th century and started in the late 1820's a girls school . To uplift the children coming from this poor region. Catharina was among the first pupils. This school was so successful that soon other girls schools in were established in the province. The Sisters educated generations of women through the 19th and 20 th century*.
Sampler by Catharina van Erven 1831, educated by the Sisters of Franciscan in Oirschot (Collection Ex Antiques, Amsterdam)
Artistically and technically, the sampler really stands out. As to expected in this region, plenty of Catholic symbolism like the Eye, the Arma Christi, burning hearts and the tabernacle with the monstrance. The darning work was done finely partly in damask darns. The realistic rose border is rather uncommon on a Dutch sampler. Most unusual are the two vertical rows with just ('free') stitching techniques. A figurative-, darning- and technique sampler all in one.
Catharina worked her sampler in 1831 at the age of sixteen. She might have become a sister Franciscan or lived 'outside' the convent. So far, we only know that she died in 1845 in Oirschot. Her sampler showed the interesting yet bit saddening story of an average per-industrial Brabant family and the upcoming of girls schools. If the rest of the education was as good as the needlework than hopefully, Catharina was uplifted!
* Vroomheid in veelvoud: geschiedenis van de Franciscanessen van Oirschot 1797-1997 by M.E. Monteiro.
** There is only one other known (darning-) sampler, even earlier from 1828 coming from this school (see Schipper-Van Lottum " Over merklappen gesproken..." pages 154 and 266) And there must be more.