Emma Broidery here. Reporting inside DMC offices in Kearny, NJ. As we now have gained worldwide exposure as the official DMC Blog, the content coming in will be pretty fantastic. So stay tuned…
In the meantime I thought it would be interesting to take a step back and examine the history of needlework, and where DMC comes in. Because DMC has been there since the beginning, we have archives of juicy information on where needlework really came from, as well as how DMC got her start (the historians refer to DMC as “her”)
So after digging through the roughly translated French chronicles of DMC’s history, and how needlework became such a popular past time, I came up with some pretty interesting information.
Let’s start with the technical definitions of needlework, cross stitch, and embroidery.
Needlework, as defined by the dictionary is:
The art, process, or product of working with a needle, esp. in embroidery, needlepoint, tapestry, quilting, and appliqué.
Cross Stitch, by definition, is:
a stitch in which pairs of diagonal stitches of the same length cross each other in the middle to form an X.
Embroidery, by definition, is:
The art of working raised and ornamental designs in threads of silk, cotton, gold, silver, or other material, upon any woven fabric, leather, paper, etc., with a needle.
Needlepoint, be definition, is:
Embroidery upon canvas, usually with uniform spacing of stitches in a pattern.
The roots of needlework go back thousands of years to the ancient Egyptians who used small slanted stitches to sew up their canvas tents. There are also many references in the Bible to elaborate needlework on religious articles, including the tent used for worship in ancient Israel.
In the Middle Ages, there were two types of needlework that were forerunners of modern needlepoint. A kind of embroidery, in 13th century Europe, was done on coarsely woven linen fabric similar to canvas mesh. Tapestries, also popular in that era, were woven on vertical threads on a loom. In the 16th century, people began to imitate these forms on a canvas background using steel needles, invented around this time. This allowed more intricate work than the fishbone or thorn needles used previously.
During the times of Mary, Queen of Scotts (who did needlepoint during her long imprisonment), needlepoint was a pastime of the leisure class. As time went on, its appeal gradually broadened to other parts of society.
In Early American culture, young girls commonly created needlepoint or cross stitch samplers which usually contained a blessing on their homes along with the alphabet and numbers. This rite of passage demonstrated not only the girl’s proficiency in stitching, but her literacy as well.
In eighteenth-century America, a girl was expected to grow up, get married, have children, and take care of a home. Because of the limits of her sphere, a girl received a very different education from that available to a boy. Indeed, before the advent of public education in the mid-nineteenth century, in order to receive any education at all a boy or a girl had to be born into the middle or upper classes and have parents who valued education enough to pay for it. Usually, a boy would be taught traditional academic subjects, while a girl might be tutored in the barest rudiments of reading and arithmetic. Instead of academic studies, girls were usually sent to schools that taught an assortment of skills considered “female accomplishments”–music, watercolor painting, comportment, manners, and sewing.
As part of her preparation for the responsibility of sewing clothes and linens for her future family, most girls completed at least two samplers. The first, which might be undertaken when a girl was as young as five or six, was called a marking sampler. Marking samplers served a dual purpose: they taught a child basic embroidery techniques and the alphabet and numbers. The letters and numbers learned while embroidering a marking sampler were especially useful, since it was important that any homemaker keep track of her linens, some of her most valuable household goods. This was accomplished by marking them, usually in a cross stitch, with her initials and a number.
Young girls made marking samplers either at home under the tutelage of their mother or grandmother, or at small community schools, called “dame schools” for the women–usually widows or spinsters–who ran them. The equivalent of today’s early years of elementary school, they were attended by both boys and girls. The children were taught reading and arithmetic, and in some cases both sexes participated in knitting, sewing, and sampler-making instruction. Although boys usually went on for further academic training, in many cases this was the only formal schooling a girl received.
A girl who was lucky enough to continue her education usually made a second embroidery at a ladies boarding school while she was in her adolescent years. This was usually a more decorative pictorial sampler or needlework picture. While less straightforwardly useful than marking samplers, decorative samplers and needlework pictures also served an important function: they revealed the values of the girl and her family to potential suitors. The completed work was usually framed and hung in the parlor, proclaiming the maker’s obedience, patience, and skill. It also communicated that a girl’s parents were wealthy enough to send their daughter to school and that the family valued the arts of refinement. The verses found on many samplers reinforced these messages, emphasizing the importance of female virtue, the value of education, and obedience to one’s parents and to God. The acceptance of death and the remembrance of the dead, including the sampler maker herself, is another frequent theme. Girls usually signed their samplers, stitching their name, age, and the date the sampler was completed. These small bits of embroidered cloth are often all that remains to testify to the otherwise unrecorded lives of their makers.
Although most women did not make decorative embroideries after they married and became responsible for all the day-to-day sewing that was needed to keep their families clothed and provided with basic linens, some continued to make imaginatively patterned and colored embroidered textiles for their homes. The most common projects, especially in New England, were bedcoverings and bedhangings. These were usually sewn of a linen or linen/cotton blend fabric that was decoratively stitched with patterns of plants, flowers, and birds, in brightly colored worsted wool. These designs imitated similar bedcoverings and hangings popular in England; the English embroideries looked to elaborately printed textiles from India for inspiration.
Another, much more rarely surviving example of household embroidery was upholstery covers for seating furniture; the Museum owns one completely embroidery-covered easy chair and an embroidered chair back. Projects like bedcovers or furniture upholstery could have been made by teenage girls who were preparing to be married, or by married women who were wealthy enough to have servants to complete household chores, thereby allowing them the leisure time in which to embroider. But in some cases, embroidered household textiles were actually “professionally made”: during the eighteenth century, talented embroiderers are known to have sewn for their neighbors in exchange for money or goods.
(Taken from the new Metropolitan Museum online Exhibit Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History)
Cross-stitch is one of the oldest forms of embroidery and can be found all over the world Many folk museums show examples of clothing decorated with cross-stitch, especially from continental Europe and Asia.
Two-dimensional (unshaded) cross-stitch in floral and geometric patterns, usually worked in black and red cotton floss on linen, is characteristic of folk embroidery in Eastern and Central Europe.
In the United States, the earliest known cross-stitch sampler is currently housed at Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The sampler was created by Loara Standish, the daughter of Captain Myles Standish, circa 1653.
Traditionally, cross-stitch was used to embellish items like dishcloths, household linens, and doilies (only a small portion of which would actually be embroidered, such as a border). Although there are many cross-stitchers who still employ it in this fashion, especially in Europe, it is now increasingly popular to simply embroider pieces of fabric and hang them on the wall for decoration.
Embroidery was being done long before its name was derived, by way of medieval French from the Anglo-Saxon word for “edge.” The term was first applied to decoratively stitched borders on medieval church vestments. In time, the word also encompassed stitched decoration on any textile fabric, as well as on leather, paper, and other materials Although the invention of the first embroidery machine in 1828 by the Alsatian Joseph Heilman made possible the mass production of embroideries, embroidery continues to be practiced as a handcraft, as it was in ancient times. Its historical uses have also persisted, as ornament for clothing, vestments, wall hangings, and domestic linens, as well as for upholstery, domestic furnishings, and rugs.
Where does DMC come into play? DMC has been around since the 1700’s. Ever since women and young girls have been practicing needlework, DMC was pretty much the only thread they were using. Let’s take a look into the DMC Chronicles and see how we got our start-up.
Taken from the DMC Historical French Chronicles
“Every day, all over the world, countless women handle reels, hanks, skeins, and balls of thread for sewing, embroidery. Crochet, knitting, darning, etc. As they take them from their work-baskets and cut a needleful or draw the thread to their crochet hooks or knitting needles, three letters dance before their eyes; DMC, the letters which appear on the round or rectangular label bearing in gold, silver or colors the imprint:
1800’s DMC – Dolfuis Mieg and Cie, Mulhouse Belfort Paris
As early as the 17th century, the Dollfus family were established in Mulhouse, a free town allied to the Swiss. Many of them held the highest offices in the little Republic. When the latter was united to France, In 1798, one of its last three Burgomasters was Jean Dollfus, who, for many long years, operated a factory making printed fabrics.
Jean Dollfus’s son, Daniel, entered his fathers business at a very early age and took an active part in it. Very enterprising by nature, he later took over the firm of Dollfus, Vetter and Cie, founded by his uncle Jean-Henri Dollfus one of three citizens of Mulhouse who had introduced the printed goods industry to their town.
Having married Anne-Marie Mieg, Daniel Dollfus added her name to his own and in Germinal, year VII (April 1800), the company adopted the name of Dollfus-Mieg & Cie,
DMC began early to bear fruit. Exhibiting for the first time, in 1806, at the Exhibition of French Industry in Paris, the firm obtained a silver medal, the reward of which was recorded by the Jury in the following terms:
“The printed goods shown by these manufactures are remarkable for the beauty of the colors and the choice of designs: the dyes are fast. The art of printing on cloth has moreover, been advanced by Messrs, Dollfus-Mieg & Cie. The jury awards to this firm a Silver Medal, first class. All manufactures of Mulhouse printed textiles should see in this award a proof of the esteem of the jury, who have examined the products with care and found them beautiful, well finished, and worthy of the confidence of the consumers.”
In the course of the same year, breaking away from his policy of limiting his activities to printing, Daniel Dollfus expanded the business by the addition of a weaving shed, Nor was that all. After having, in 1807, set in operation the first printing machine, in 1812 he built a spinning mill in which the first frame was running the following year. To make sure of the necessary supplies of coal, he became part-owner of the Ronchamp Collieries in the Department of Haute-Saone.
The firm of Dollfus-Mieg & Cie never ceased to develop. At the start, it controlled 150 printing frames and produced chiefly for the home market. In 1806 it employed 800 workpeople and delivered 34,000 pieces of printed fabric. It had become the most important business concern in the locality, as can be seen from the minutes of the meeting, held on the 28th of March of that year of the “Chambre Consultative des Fabriques, Manufactures, Arts et Metiers de Mulhouse.” (Advisory Chamber of Manufactures, Arts and Crafts of Mulhouse), founded in 1804.Its held of activity extended further and further. In 1808 it opened a sales office in Paris, which still exists today. Its reputation once firmly established in France, the firm sought outlets abroad. From 1811 onwards, sales depots were founded successively, inside and outside France, at Brussels, Naples, Lyons, Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Toulouse. Others followed in 1819 and later.
In 1818 Daniel Dollfus-Mieg, who had never enjoyed good health, died at the age of 49, leaving to his four sons, Daniel, Mathieu, Jean, and Emile, a flourishing business, to which they devoted themselves body and soul, each according to his gifts. Jean, a true business man, became the moving spirit. Daniel and Emile were both technical experts, the former supervised the bleaching, dyeing, and printing, the latter the spinning and weaving. Mathieu played the useful part of mediator between the brothers, whose strong personalities and forthright characters sometimes brought them into lively oppositions.
A power weaving plant, which soon numbered three hundred looms, was installed in 1829. At the 5th Exhibition of the Products of French Industry, held in Paris in 1819 DMC had been awarded the gold medal for its, “fine manufacturer. The good taste of its printing and brilliance of its colors,” and this verdict was confirmed in 1834 as the 8th exhibition of National Industry, also held in Paris, the jury expressed itself in the following flattering terms:
“Since 1819 the Firm Dollfus-Mieg & Cie has held a position in the front rank, both by the excellence of its products and by the scale of its commercial operations. Its products are not confined to the French market but are sought after by Europe and the two Americas. The printed cotton fabrics, jaconet, calicoes, cambric’s, and muslins, shown by it at the 1834 Exhibition, prove that it still maintains its position in the forward march of this industry. The jury confirm the Gold Medal so deservedly obtained.”
This praise was merited. It had been in the past and would be still more in the future. DMC did not rest on its laurels, it improved its plant and perfected its products. To printed goods, it added weaving yearns, which became in demand almost immediately. The weaving yarn was made with a patented cotton twist.
To its other manufacturing activities DMC had, long since, added another; the product of sewing threads. Much experimental work had been done; when this had been brought to a satisfactory issue, a “Fil d’Alsace” (Alsatian Thread), in balls and on reels, was launched on the market with the trade mark DMC. F. Engel, son-in-law of Jean Dollfus, fully aware of the great possibilities of an article in such universal demand, devoted all his care to this new branch, which held promise of the most brilliant future. The range was gradually increased to include embroidery, marking, crochet, and darning cottons, which contributed towards the rapid growth of the fame of the DMC mark. As early as 1850, imitations were reported from various sides, and three years later took place the first of the prosecutions for infringement of trade-mark rights which, continuing to present day, have run into hundreds. As time went by, tireless research had lead to great improvements in the production of these threads, and many new articles were introduced, among them the braids.
With the return of peace, after the 1870 invasion, DMC, ever in the vanguard of the march of progress, welcome as it always did, the latest technical inventions. Twelve color printing machines were installed. Every fashionable fabric, from calicoes to rich block-printed woolens, appeared in its collection. New sewing, embroidery and crochet threads were created and successfully launched. Taking part in the Universal Exhibition of 1878 at Paris, the company was again declared Hor Concours.
The year 1879 saw the laying of the foundation stone of the Belfort works. These were devoted exclusively to production of cotton threads and braids, which thence-forward acquired considerable importance. Fine gold and silver threads, so valuable to professional workers of church embroiderer’s. were also manufactured. Not long after, a printing press was set up in the Mulhouse factory, so that all necessary printing, whether on paper or on cardboard, could be done on the spot.
The flourishing condition DMC had achieved was due, above all, to the initiative of its great chief, Jean Dollfus. An industrialist and economist of repute, he also exercised a great influence as a philanthropist. Always interested in social questions, he early turned his attention to the bettering of the living conditions of the numerous workpeople who were drawn into industry and unable to find suitable accommodations near their place of work. Towards 1850 he initiated the building at Mulhouse of “Cities Ouvrieres” or workers’ settlements, which served as models for those which were subsequently erected in many other places. As President of the Society which was constituted for this purpose and the greater part of whose capital he provided, he was so successful that Napolean III ordered a subsidy of 300,000 francs to be paid to the budding enterprise. The object of the Society was to build houses with small gardens intended to house one family, and to sell them to the workers at cost, allowing them as much as fourteen to sixteen years in which to pay. Out of 1060 houses built up to 30th June 1885, 775 had been fully paid for by their occupants. This “city”, born of Jean Dollfus’s initiative, covers an area of several square kilometers.
When this truly great man died, in 1887, the family enterprise over whose destiny he had so long presided was known and respected throughout the world. He had most worthy successors in his grandsons, particularly in Alfred Engel and F. engel-Gros and the latter’s son-in-law, E. Duvillard who carried on and further developed his work.
Towards the end of the 18th century and at the beginning of the 19th, great buildings were erected and filled with every modern improvement. New sales depots were opened abroad. The thread industry had grown to such an extent that, in 1904, DMC decided to close the mills which handled fabrics. This was the end of the textile printing begun by the Dollfus family, with such outstanding success, more than a century and a half earlier.
The whole care and energy of the heads of DMC and their collaborators was now concentrated on the manufacture of threads and this received a fresh impetus. The needs of different markets were closely studied and met to perfection. For example, to replace the threads, often produced by primitive methods, which the peasant women of the Balkans used for embroidering their traditional gala costumes, superior articles were created and put on the market; they completely gained the confidence of those clever embroideresses and lace-makers. Thus, threads bearing the DMC mark won the appreciation of consumers in ever-widening circle.
Further, specialists sent to the various European centers of embroidery assembled a magnificent collection of specimens of needlework, most of which were reproduced, adapted to current tasted, in colored publications for the use of the public. These numerous collections of designs for embroidery, knitting, crochet etc… which have rendered and continue to render such service to all interested in needlework, are printed in the Firm’s own works on the most modern presses. The Encyclopedia of Needlework, a volume of nearly 800 pages, of which more than a million and a half copies have so far been printed, comes from the same presses.
Great four-story buildings over 750 long were scarcely completed when the world war of 1914-1918 broke out. Mulhouse was once more a theater of military operations, which, fortunately caused no damage to the mills. Belfort was in the same case, and work, though slowed down, continued throughout the duration of hostilities.
After a period of reconstruction, DMC resumed full activity under the supreme control of Mr. E. Thierry-Mieg, then of Mr. E. Krafft. By 1928 it employed 9,000 work people. Several associates traveled afar, to the Far East, to Latin America, Australia, and Africa, to create new outlets or develop old ones. More than a hundred new sales deports, branch offices and agencies were established all over the world. Numerous traveling salesmen overran every country in Europe and overseas, carrying with them the classic DMC Sample Case, so familiar to buyers from Paris to Shanghai from New York to Sydney.
Helped by a vast publicity campaign consisting of advertisements in the press of every country, a monthly needlework journal, competitions, patterns distributed by the million, showcards some of which were printed in 25-30 languages, and above all the DMC Library, which comprises at the present time some sixty publications in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Dutch, the DMC threads, thanks to their peerless quality, spread rapidly throughout the world. They are valued for their strength, their suppleness, their remarkable brilliancy, which remains unimpaired by repeated washing, and their wide, skillfully graduated range of fast colors.
The choice offered to the consumer is composed of several hundred articles, most of them available in some thirty thicknesses and 400 shades. The materials used in their manufacture are the very highest grades of cotton, flax, real silk, and rayon.
DMC again displayed her philanthropic work. As early as 1830 it had founded the first sickness benefit fund. Twenty years later it built a day-nursery and infant school, followed by a hall for instructive recreation. We have spoken earlier of the workers settlements with their adjuncts- bakehouse, washhouse etc.. created by Jean Dollfus. In 1883 a provident and superannuation fund was started for the employees. Not long after large canteens with kitchens were built for the workers as a well as a model day-nursery at the Belfort works. For many years now DMC has paid an annual pension to its retired workpeople and employees, without levying any contribution, and during the years 1914-1918 it paid out in war and unemployment relief, more than five and a half million francs. Since 1919, it has provided hundreds of allotments as well as a vast sports ground, and created a new modern workers settlement, which was unfortunately destroyed by aerial bombing in 1944 but is now in course of re-building.
She (DMC), is a truely magnificant firm that produces quality product, and exercise’s good will towards her workers. DMC has taken as its motto a Latin phrase”
“Tenu Filo Magnum Texitur Opus
Which may be translated:
Of so fine a thread a great handiwork is woven.
These words do not apply to DMC alone. They embrace all who handle DMC threads and braids at all the various stages of their existence; those who produce them, who share in the work of distribution, who use them. From the raw material stored in mountains of bales, skilled and carefully operatives, with the help of immense of minute machines, complex and ingenious draw those threads, matt or brilliant, loose and silky, tightly-twisted and corded, white or clothed in color, which, in a powerful and unbroken stream of trucks, cases and packages, flow from the mills and their subsidiaries to the wholesales and retailer, to be carried away finally from the stores by the consumers, in whose hands they fulfill their destiny. Threads and braids enter the home in their original make-up, but they do not retain it; diligent hands use them to assemble fabrics, to hold them together, to tack, sew, patch, and mend; they knot, creating at once the fabric and the article, or they darn. They are eager, they hurry; a layette must be completed for the arrival of the eagerly awaited new baby; a piece of embroidery, crochet or lace must be finished in time for a birthday or an anniversary. Guided by the designs of the DMC Library, helped and encouraged by the quality of the DMC articles which are their choice, women everywhere and in every walk of life produce work of all kinds with their needles, simple or elaborate, bearing always the stamp of originality, the individuality, works or art with which they clothe themselves and their children, decorate their homes, beautify their lives and those of their entourage.
Pretty interesting huh? DMC not only was one of the first thread manufacturer’s in the world, they supported the category of needlework since day 1! Now, 278 years later, we continue to carry on the great work of Daniel and Jean Dollfus by providing inspiration and programs to enhance this wonderful category.
Enjoy these free samplers to practice stitching and get a feel for what those early colonial American girls had to do to prove their worth.
– Emma Broidery