An Amazing Woman

Hello! Today, I’d like to tell you about an amazing woman I recently got to know. Well, not in person, but… Okay, let’s begin at the beginning. For the second half of our German holiday we rented the attic of a house entirely overgrown with grape vines, Virginia creeper and roses.

In the hallway, there was a poster of the local weaving museum, in the former school of the village of Schalkenmehren, next to the church. To give you an idea of the location, here is a photograph I took from high up on a hill. The red arrow points to the museum.

Entering the museum, it became immediately clear that local teacher Anna Droste-Lehnert (1892-1976) had played a very important part in the village weaving industry. Hang on, that name sounds familiar. Could she be…?

Yes, as it turned out she was our landlord’s grandmother, and the house we were staying in belonged to her family. How nice! This is a photograph of her in 1920, aged 28 and newly arrived in the village.

The 1920s were a time of great economic hardship for the country, and the people of the farming community of Schalkenmehren were struggling to keep their heads above water. Anna came up with the idea of reintroducing home weaving as a way to supplement their incomes. At first she met with strong opposition. But, just like when her father opposed her wish to become a teacher, Anna didn’t give up.

After a while, one farmer began to see sense in what she said, and soon others followed. They retrieved old looms from attics and barns, repaired them and began to weave again. Some of these looms are on display in the museum, from fairly simple to more advanced ones, and dating from the early 19th to the 20th Century.

More and more people in Schalkenmehren joined in the weaving. Next to her work as a school teacher, Anna worked hard at organizing everything and improving the quality of the weaving. She experimented with natural dyes from plants found around the village. There were some fifty that could be used.

The museum has a small garden with many of the local dye plants.

Anna travelled quite a bit to gain more knowledge about weaving and dyeing techniques and materials, which was unusual for someone of her station at the time. She was also the creative force behind the weavers, designing most of their patterns. There are many samples on display in the museum.

In the wake of the weaving revival, other crafts supplementing the villagers’ incomes were also flowering, like knotting fringes on woven throws, sewing clothes from the woven fabrics…

… and embellishing them with lace, embroidery and smocking. Here is an example of smocking on a blouse.

I loved seeing all of this beautiful work, and I also loved the kitchen-cum-sewing-room in the museum:

In a friendly way, Anna was very demanding with regard to the quality of the weaving and sewing, and that paid off. The fine quality woven fabrics known as Maartuch became popular in the entire country.

In the end industrial mass production won out, but home weaving was a serious source of income for six decades. The last village weaver stopped weaving in 1981 and his loom is now in the museum, looking as if he has only gone for a coffee break.

Visiting the museum, I marvelled at how much one woman had been able to achieve. Not entirely on her own, of course – after several years a weaving cooperative was formed. But still… what an amazing woman.

I wondered how she kept all of this going after losing two of her three children. A booklet about her life said that she never quite recovered from those losses (who would?). But then I thought of the embroidered towel hanging in the museum’s kitchen-cum-sewing-room, with the German saying Freudiches Schaffen macht das Herz lachen (Joyful creating makes the heart smile).

Maybe it was the other way around. Maybe it was the weaving, dyeing and designing that kept her going.

The address of Heimweberei-Museum Schalkenmehren is: Mehrener Strasse 5, 54552 Schalkenmehren. The museum is only open on Sundays from 3-5 p.m. and does not have a website of its own. Up-to-date information can be found here on the Eifel Tourism website

What Can We Do?


I really wanted to write a warm and fuzzy post about knitting, but with everything that’s going on I can’t. My heart goes out to the people of Ukraine, I’m holding my breath and my mind is working overtime. Some of the things that popped up in my mind were images from an earlier visit to the Dutch Open Air Museum. What have they got to do with anything? Please bear with me.

The photo above shows the interior of a 1950s/1960s post office in the museum. Stepping inside, I’m a child again, queueing for I-don’t-know-what with Mum, looking up in awe at the high, high ceiling.

Oh, how I’d love to work here later, using those wonderful stamps all day – pomPOM, pomPOM!

It was an unexpected wave of nostalgia – I had all but forgotten about this childhood ambition.

The Open Air Museum is an amazing place. The old houses and other buildings are lovely.

And it’s very interesting to look at household utensils and tools from different periods.

But it’s the things from more recent times that really evoke strong feelings of nostalgia for me, like the living-room from the 1970s. The photo isn’t great because it was taken through a window, but it gives an impression: A woman in a maxi dress, that special seventies design style, and everything in brown and orange.

This No Nukes poster was the most unexpected item to push my nostalgia button. It whooshed me right back to the huge peace protests of the early 1980s. We were dreaming of a peaceful world without nuclear weapons.

And look at where we are now, in 2022. I feel shocked and abhorred by what is happening in Ukraine, and the return of nuclear threat.

I heard a Ukrainian woman living in the Netherlands say on the news, ‘We don’t need your concern, we need your help.’ I never got to work in a post office, but I didn’t become a world leader either. What can we, ordinary citizens, do?

The Open Air Museum houses a small exhibition about knitting for the war effort in 1914. Nobody in their right mind would feel nostalgic about WWI, but at least knitters could make a real difference. The newspaper article below calls on the women and girls of the town of Zeist to knit socks for soldiers, preferably dark grey.

From what I’ve read, I know that these socks and other knitted items were not just a great comfort, but a real help too. Woollen socks could even help prevent a serious condition like trench foot.

In the US literally millions of items were knit and shipped to Europe under the auspices of the Red Cross (interesting article here).

Now, again, the Red Cross is asking us to help – this time not by knitting, but by donating to them or other reliable organizations giving medical and humanitarian aid. More information can be found on the websites of the Dutch Red Cross, the international Red Cross or the Dutch Cooperating Aid Organizations at Giro 555.

Let’s do(nate) what we can. And let’s not forget to breathe and to appreciate the good things in life.

Take care, dear friends.

Embroidery Sampler


Here is the embroidery sampler I promised to show you. Like the knitting sampler I wrote about two weeks ago, this sampler isn’t spectacular or particularly beautiful. But unlike the knitting sampler, whose maker is unknown to me, I know with 100% certainty who made this embroidery sampler. It was my Mum.

Not only did she show it to me, she also embroidered her name and the date on it.

My Mum made the sampler at school in 1941, when she was 8 or 9. It was the beginning of World War II and the family lived in Leeuwarden, the capital of Friesland. She didn’t talk about it very much, but I have heard stories of bombings and scarcity.

One story that has stayed with me, is that they sometimes had ‘guests’ staying at their house. At those times, she and her sisters shared one bed to free up their own beds. During a razzia, the children were woken up in the middle of the night. The visitors were hidden in a secret space, and the girls had to run around the house, so that the Germans couldn’t see who had been sleeping where. A strange and scary time to grow up in.

To some girls, making an embroidery sampler may have been a welcome distraction. I don’t think it was to my Mum.

I’ve seen similar samplers, and compared to those, hers has only a few decorative borders. The alphabet is incomplete and the letters are jumbled up.

To the left of the actual letters, there are 3 aborted attempts (photo below, bottom left). Or were those the place where she started, meant for practicing cross stitches?

After this, she never did any counted cross stitch again. She did like embroidery, but of a different kind. She has made many, many colourful table cloths embroidering over pre-printed patterns.

Still, although Mum didn’t enjoy doing cross stitch, the sampler must have been special to her. After WWII, in the early 1950s, the family (minus one daughter who was already married) emigrated to Australia, hoping for a better life.

My Mum’s fiancé (later my Dad) came with them, but couldn’t acclimatize. And several years later my Mum and Dad came back to the Netherlands, with just one suitcase each holding all of their earthly possessions. The embroidery sampler must have been in her suitcase, travelling all the way to Australia and back again. An extraordinary story about an ordinary sampler.

I have an old magazine packed with pictures and patterns of embroidery samplers.

There are many much more elaborate samplers in it, but also several school samplers. Here is Mum’s sampler next to one in the magazine. Same kind of letters, same kind of decorative borders.

And here are three similar ones framed on a wall. They are almost always embroidered just in red thread, with a few exceptions using blue as well as red.

I’m thinking of having Mum’s cleaned and framed now, too.

Years ago, I knit a series of beaded wrist warmers…

…including a pair inspired by the embroidery sampler. One of them with my initials, and the other with the year I made them on it.

They are nice accessories that keep the wind from blowing up my sleeves when I’m riding my bicycle.

I’m now working on a project incorporating elements from both the knitting sampler and the embroidery sampler. More about that in a few weeks’ time, I hope.

For those of you who’d like to know more, this is THE book on Frisian embroidery samplers:

Letter voor Letter was written by Gieneke Arnolli, the now-retired Fashion and Textiles curator of the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden, and Rosalie Sloof. It contains loads of information, many beautiful photographs, an English summary, and a complete fold-out pattern for a sampler. It is out of print, unfortunately, but there are some second-hand copies around, and it can still be borrowed from Dutch libraries.

The Fries Museum has a collection of over 600 samplers from the 17th to the 20th Century. A large part of the collection can be viewed on the website A wonderful source of information and inspiration. Most examples of red school samplers like my Mum’s can be found on pages 6 and 7 of the website.

Click on the button ‘Alle merklappen’ for an overview. Zoom in on the samplers by holding the Ctrl key and scrolling simultaneously, or by holding the Ctrl key and using the + to zoom in and – to zoom out. Be amazed and have fun!