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Dresden-work sampler

Steiner, Mary
Place Made:
Salem North Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
cotton –linen
WOA 10; LOA 10 3/8
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Sampler of Dresden stitches. Design consists of eighteen ovals and four curled leaves, all outlined in tambour work. The fillings of the shapes comprise at least twenty-two different pattern sets of pulled thread work.

This Dresden-work sampler features over twenty patterns using chain stitch and pulled thread probably achieved using a tambour hook.

MATERIALS: Cotton fabric measuring 10″ x 10 1/4″ 64 x 64 threads per inch. Fabric edges were turned under twice and hemmed. Embroidery thread is possibly linen.

STITCHES: Chain stitch, probably executed with a tambour hook; Dresden work (i.e., pulled thread) fillings.

ARTIST: Maria (also known as Polly sometimes referred to as Mary) Steiner (1792-1868) was the oldest daughter of Catherine Sehner Steiner and the Reverend Abraham Steiner (served as inspector of the Girls Boarding School between 1806 and 1816). Maria arrived in Salem in 1798 to attend school (her parents lived in Bethabara) and boarded with her uncle Jacob Steiner and his wife Catherine. She was one of the first town girls to join the boarding school when it began in 1804 (in the Single Sisters House before the school building was built). She became a teacher in the school in 1811 and taught there until 1820 when she accepted the position of pflegerin (leader) of the Single Sisters’ Choir. In 1823 a dispute with town leaders over her independent nature caused her to give up the position of pfegerin and she returned to teaching (see Griffin, LESS TIME FOR MEDDLING p. 146 for description of episode). In 1828 she married the Reverend Christian Friedrich Denke and moved with him to Friedberg where he was the pastor and the couple began a weekday school for the children of the community. They returned to Salem five years later to live in a house they had begun to build in 1831 (Lot 90). After her husband’s death in 1838, Polly continued to live in the house, taught singing, and gave religious instruction to African American Children through the “Negro Congregation” in Salem (which became St. Philips). In 1845 she became the governess of two girls from Georgia and travelled with the family to France for two years. Not long after she returned to Salem from Europe, Polly again began to teach and serve in an administrative capacity at the Girls Boarding School. She continued this work until her death in 1868.

The artists also painted the watercolor (Acc. # 5896) which acknowledges the birth of Allen Andreas Spach in 1823. The ca. 1852 watercolor of Salem (acc. # P-17) is also attributed to her. According to David Blum, the Moravian Music Foundation has a manuscript music book belonging to Polly Steiner.

COMMENTARY: Contemporary accounts and advertisements placed by teachers in both Northern and Southern colonies indicate that tambour work was generally considered a sewing technique, not fancy ornamental work. Pulled thread embroidery was called Dresden work in the eighteenth century. While modern embroideries consider pulled thread an embroidery technique (the lacey effect is achieved by pulling counted stitches tightly to create enlarged holes in the fabric), Dresden work produced by professional embroiderers was classified as a lace in the eighteenth century. (Recorded by Kathy Staples, April 30, 2002)
Credit Line:
Gift of Mrs. Eugene Vogler