Pattern Darning

Much like the name suggests, this stitch was originally used to repair clothing so it was important to match threads and color as much as possible. Threads would even be pulled from hems and seams to use in the repairs. Young girls often made darning samplers so demonstrate their skill in repairing various fabrics. Over time, it emerged as a decorative stitch used on clothing, bedding and pillows.

There are four major types of pattern darning defined primarily by region: Egyptian/Islamic, Germanic, Icelandic and Japanese. Pattern darning is a basic running stitch and is worked entirely horizontally or vertically. The pattern should be nearly identical on both front and back of the piece except for a small slant at the beginning/end of each row as thread moves.

Even weave fabrics work best and the thread should be the same width as the fabric since the original idea was to repair holes and patch clothing. In this vein, the smaller and more delicate the stitch the more hidden the repair would be. As the technique transformed into a decorative method, the concept of hidden stitches was replaced by a simple design of running stitches and is best worked with the “stab” method since the sewing method will distort and stretch the fabric.

Pattern darning was first seen in Egypt in the late twelfth century and examples are seen through the early sixteenth century. These designed were geometric or small figures and were often used on light clothing, household linens and furnishings. Designs were worked in bands that were then incorporated into clothing. Blessings or “good luck” motifs were often incorporated into designs. Most existing samples are from this era and region since the dry atmosphere was more conducive to preservation than the damp and cold of Europe and Scandinavia.

The second major type of pattern darning is called opus teutonicum and originated in Germany during the twelfth century. These designs incorporated many other stitches, including satin stitch, brick stitch, eyelet, chain and herringbone. The technique was used primarily for alter clothes and other church items and the few remaining European samples are from this usage. By the fourteenth century designs were beginning to include secular motifs. It is believed this technique was a much cheaper version of the silk and goldwork of the era and is very similar to whitework.

Icelandic examples of pattern darning are also primarily altar cloths and appeared around 1500 and were normally borders. The designs were heavily influenced by Byzantine silk fabrics and commonly used religious motifs, as would be expected for church hangings. The first mention of the “glit” stitch is in church inventories from the early fourteenth century, but no examples remain today. Icelandic designs are called skakkaglit (slanting glit) and are mentioned from the end of the fifteenth century through the seventeenth. Unfortunately, medieval Icelandic inventories and records contain many terms that have lost their meaning over the years and since there are few extant example, they may never be defined.

Japanese darning, called Sashiko, was developed in the eighteenth century. It is traditionally stitched with white thread on indigo fabric. Used to combine two or more layers of material, the stitch was used to decorate clothing while also strengthening or repairing fabric by combining layers. The biggest difference with this style was that the lines did not cross. Sashiko was also used to reinforce the bottom of socks, worn both inside and outside. When cotton became more common, and thus cheaper, the easy stitching surface it provided extended the technique among peasants and poorer people. Designs became more intricate and the ability to combine layers provided a unique way to create warmer clothing. Like many cultures, young Japanese women were judged upon their stitching ability.

Carol Hanson.
Embroiders Guild of Western Australia. %20Embroidery/Sashiko.htm
Filum Aureum; Newsletter of the West Kingdom Needleworkers Guild.
Icelandic Embroidery.
Nordic Needle.