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Embroidered Hand Towel, "Catarina Kaufman"

ca. 1830
Origin: America, Pennsylvania, Lebanon County
OL: 68 1/2" x OW: 17 1/2"
Cotton embroidery threads on a linen ground
Museum Purchase, The Friends of Colonial Williamsburg Collections Fund
Acc. No. 2011.610.2
This is a long rectangular linen hand towel embroidered in pink, blue, green, cream, and brown cotton and silk threads with scattered Pennsylvania German motifs. It is hemmed at right side, has selvage at left side, and is fringed at top and bottom. At top the towel is marked on reverse to be folded over to the front: "CATARINA KAUFMENI [sic]." The towel is also marked near the top in pink and blue embroidery threads: "CATARINA/ KAUFMAN." The lower portion contains a 17" long section of motifs worked in cotton darning stitch on drawn work.
Label:This hand towel was embroidered in pink and blue cross and running-stitched designs by Catarina Kaufman, whose name is marked twice near the top of the towel. Bold colorful Pennsylvania German motifs fill the complete length of the towel as well as the intricate open drawn and worked bottom panel.

The custom for young, unmarried women to decorate hand towels with embroidery was common in both Germany and Pennsylvania, especially in Mennonite families. Making a hand towel was part of mastering sewing skills and developing self control--important lessons for young women who were soon to become wives, housekeepers, and mothers. More often they were made in anticipation of marriage as part of the household linens required to set up housekeeping. Intended to beautify a home rather than for actual use, decorated hand towels were usually hung for display on the living-room side of doors between the kitchen and living room, or stove room. Frequently painted blue or red, these doors showed off the prettily embroidered white towels to their best advantage.