After a weekend of dipping into an old favourite – Jane Eyre I began to wonder about the needlework of the Bronte sisters.
In the Brontë novels sewing is a theme running through them all – Grace Poole mends in an upstairs room and Nelly Dean sews as she narrates her story to Mr Lockwood. Caroline Helstone bemoans the fact that the sisters of local men have no earthly employment but housework and sewing.
The Bronte sisters were taught to sew at a young age by their nursemaid Sarah Garrs. It is known that she instructed the girls in the interval between morning lessons and the dinner hour. The sisters would also sew in the evenings while their father gave them oral lessons in history and biography.
You can picture the sisters sitting together, hoops and needles in hand, making row after row of cross-stitches while their minds drifted and their imagination ran wild as the story lines from Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall began to form .
Charlotte Bronte’s workbox
The Brontës’ samplers are included in “Samplers and Tapestry Embroideries” by Marcus Huish.
Huish describes the samplers: “They show a strange lack of ornament, and a monotony of colour (they are worked in black silk on rough canvas) which deprive them of all attractiveness in themselves.”
Judging from the photographs, it’s easy to see how Huish might arrive at that conclusion.
A line in Emily’s sampler says: “Surely I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man.” One cannot help but think of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights.
The samplers are now in the possession of the Brontë Society and are on display at the Brontë Parsonage Museum, Haworth where charts can be purchased.