An Moonen - Antique Textile

Living to love antique textiles

Antique Samplers – A lecture by An Moonen

A lecture by An Moonen; former curator of the textile collection

Dutch samplers from 1600-1800 and the sampler collection of the Netherlands Open-Air Museum at Arnhem

Lecture held in Deerfield september 2005

In Dutch a sampler is called a ‘merklap’. This shows immediately something of the origin. It was a piece of material on which the ladies practised their mark and stitches on a piece of cloth.

In English it is called a ‘sampler’, and this too shows, how it was used. It was a record of samples of what could be done with your own needlework for your trousseau.

One of the earliest pictures (approximately 1520) of a sampler can be seen in a painting by Joos van Cleve, a Dutch painter, working in Antwerp.

In 1540 the Dutch laundries requested that all linen and clothing to be washed had to be properly marked with the mark of the owner by means of initials, a number or even a date. Sometimes important items like sheets, pillowcases and shirts, of families of standing, had further decorations around the initials.

Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Nights Dream (1600) also mentioned two ladies working on a sampler. The first know dated English sampler (1598) was made by Jane Bostocke and this one is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The oldest and most famous New England sampler stitched by Loara Standish (circa 1653) is in Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Massachusetts.]

As you can see samplers have been around for quite a while. The largest Dutch collection of samplers is held by the Netherlands Open-Air Museum at Arnhem. This museum was founded in 1912 to preserve the culture of the rural areas. The thought at the time was that all culture and development of people evolved from the rural population. As you can well imagine, this theory is of course no longer valid!

The museum bought farmhouses from all regions. They took them to bits, brick by brick, beam by beam and rebuilt them on a 44 ha [ 108 acres ] site in the Waterberg forest in Arnhem. Over the years this has built up to 146 buildings and monuments. There have been collected all kinds of objects basically from 1600 till now.

Since the founding in 1912 there have been samplers in the collection. They were called cross-stitch samplers and were part of the large folk-art collection. The Open-Air Museum in Arnhem was in respect to folk-art of our country, the most important museum in the Netherlands.

Textile was not yet regarded as a stand-alone subject. Apart from the regional traditional costumes, it got absolutely no attention whatsoever. During the German occupation in the Second World War there was a renewed interest in folk-art in the Netherlands. Folk-art in general fitted in well in the Nazi way of thinking: Blut und Boden – the connection of people to their land. The museum got the necessary attention, and it became a state museum. During these 5 years of occupation, 1940-1945, a lot of research was done in the field of folk-art, by the staff of the museum.

In the textile and sampler area, Miss Hil Bottema started with recording, by drawing with pencil and paint, the motifs in the folk art and thus also the motifs on samplers. She put out a booklet in 1942 with these motifs Merklappen oud en nieuw (Samplers old and new). Hil Bottema was also well known for her attention the folk art techniques! She organised so called make something nice days, what we would now call a workshop to embroider samplers, plait straw, paint eggs and make paper cuttings.

In 1943 a group of 7 staff members from the Open Air Museum went to the island of Marken for over 7 months, and measured houses, photographed interiors, and they documented and bought textiles and costumes.

Also a few 17th century samplers from Marken ended up in the collection of the Museum at that time.

This research was very important as Marken, because it was an island, had still many old customs and the clothing resembled the clothing of the 17th century. Marken was linked to the main land by a dike in 1957. Despite the fact that the isolation is now gone, Marken has retained its charm and the regional clothing is still worn.

The research into the Needlework on the island of Marken, as part of this 1943 study of Marken, was in the good hands of Maria van Hemert. She was an artist and worked as a volunteer for the museum. The result of her work appeared in 1960, long after her death in 1949.

Also the Achterhoek and Twente, two regions in the east of the Netherlands, which originally were regarded as Saxon, were under research. Farmhouses were measured and interiors bought. Also a lot of linen, trousseaus and samplers where collected.

Habits and customs were extensively described, photographed and even filmed. As well as the preparation of flax, weaving of linen, and the sewing of one’s trousseau.

During the battle of Arnhem in September 1944, well known from the movie A Bridge Too Far, the preserved houses in the museum were occupied by 600 evacuees from Arnhem. The collection, usually kept in those houses and in the storage, was stored in other places where-ever possible.

Many of those places were destroyed during the battle in September 1944, including that part of the collection that was stored in them, like in the Ranzow Bank in Arnhem where the jewellery was stored, and the Castle of Doornenburg where the costumes were held.

A lot of textiles and costumes has been lost. Therefore the most of the current collection of antique textiles and costumes has been collected since World War Two.

In 1945, after the liberation, one began with re-cataloguing everything, including the so-called old collection from 1912 to 1945.

In the Netherlands serious collecting of samplers only got going after the war. Then the first antique dealers became interested in folk-art, and they had samplers in their shop.

Only around 1960 we had the first antique shop, belonging to Mrs Dufour in Utrecht, specialised in samplers, darning samplers, traditional costumes, fashion- and sewing equipment, etc. Later in 1978 Mr and Mrs Ex of Amsterdam opened a shop, specialised in samplers.

In the Open-Air Museum the real research and study of the textiles actually began with the arrival of Bep Meulenbelt [mrs. Albarta Meulenbelt-Nieuwburg] in 1953. She worked in the Regional Costumes Department and she was the first in the Open-Air Museum to separate the flat textiles, like interior textiles, household textiles and needlework, from the clothing.

She realised that it was important that attention was paid to the ordinary material. It was not easy to convince those in charge of the museum at that time that this simple linen and household textile was a cultural heritage.

This linen, for trousseau and interior, was made by girls and women themselves at home or done by professional seamstresses. The possibility to be able to make the trousseau, was in the first instance learned and practised on a sampler, which was the first piece of work of a girl aged between 7 and 14 years.

When the child had finished the sampler, and at the same time had developed good skills in sewing and knitting, she would start on a darning sampler. By then she would have been in her teens. Technically a darning sampler is very difficult to make.

One had to have understanding of interweaving techniques to be able to make the plain weave, and several variations on twill weave. Satin darning hardly occurs in darning samplers.

The ability to sew and repair was then thought to be absolutely necessary for the development of a woman and for becoming a good housewife and mother.

See the educational prints of the 18th century.


We find several techniques in all sorts of samplers. Samplers were made for sewing and hemming, whitework, open cut work, needle lace making, plain darning and darning invisibly, a variety of embroidery stitches, and the well-known cross-stitches.

Some had more letters than motifs, others hardly any letters and more motifs. The motifs varied per region. These properties of appearance and origin can be clearly seen.

Also the shape of the cloth is different for each region. The Friesian samplers are usually rather long and rectangular, orientation along the length or width. Others are always square or rectangular with beautifully rich borders.

In the workshop I already mentioned earlier several types of stitches used in these samplers. In the 17th century there was more variation in the use of stitches in the different types of samplers, but eventually, after approximately 1750, all samplers were usually embroidered with cross-stitch.

It is clear that the sampler was not just an exercise cloth for young girls, but also a record of patterns to be used on her linen.

It is therefore remarkable that Mrs Meulenbelt, in the fifties, collected not just exercise samplers for the museum, but also the actual decorated linen.

Apart from the samplers she also bought and collected sheets, pillow-cases, towels, bread-cloths, tablecloths and serviettes.

This all was part of the trousseau of the young woman, and the nicest linen with the nicest embroidery seemed to be for special occasions like the wedding night or when the woman was laying in.

As the nicest goods were only used for special occasions, like the wedding night and the birth of a child, they were hardly used, and well stored in the cabinet or linen cupboard , and so it survived the centuries.

So there is now quite a lot of this linen, in museums, and some in private collections. Most of them are in white work, or with embroidery, in the colours red or black.

The embroidered linen from the island of Marken was normally embroidered with black silk.

The earliest dated sampler in the Netherlands is Friesian and from 1572 .It is held in a private collection. The oldest dated sampler in the Open-Air Museum is from 1623 and this is a whitework sampler.

Of the repair- and darning samplers the oldest dated one in the Netherlands is from 1694, and is part of my own collection; the oldest one belonging to the Open-airmuseum collection is from 1704.

Until now, only 4 dated 17th century darning samplers are registered.

It seems that samplers for repair and darning are mostly Dutch in origin, as far as I know now. Our darning samplers were started to be made from the last quarter of the 17th century.

In the beginning the darns were placed at random, but during the 18th century we got more structure in the appearance of the sampler; symmetrical placing, more balanced and with exact use of colour. But the darns always reflect the household material which was to be mended.

With darning samplers, one can see sometimes, where they come from, especially in the case of orphanage samplers. Over the decennia the size became larger, and we got embroidered sampler motifs on the border.

Usually they are on a linen or cotton cloth and worked with silk.

However I own a white darning sampler from about 1700, which has been darned with linen. This is rare. Regretfully this sampler is not dated. One part has also a border, what we call in Dutch the so-called pearl edge [parelrandje] or mouse tooth edge [muizentandje].

Those edgings are to be seen in utility items like aprons, handkerchiefs and collars. Sometimes on the best linen, womens and mens shirts in the 17th and 18th century, and on the painted portraits of that period.

The making of samplers, and darning samplers had also a development over the centuries, with recognisable time periods. During the 19th century more and more official schools were built, and the Dutch samplers were part of the compulsory needlework education, as described in an education act of around 1850. Darning samplers and normal samplers were made in schools until about 1950.

For many years between 1960 and 1981 Mrs Meulenbelt, as the curator of the textile collection, did a thorough search for and research in the samplers in the Netherlands, in museums as well as private collections. In each region she called on all owners of samplers, through newspaper ads and magazines, to contact her.

Thousands of samplers, from museums and private collections, were documented. All samplers were photographed, measured and fully described. At the end there was an exhibition of many of the samplers that were so rediscovered in that particular region. She has indexed the whole of the Netherlands and made more than 20 sampler exhibitions in the country. After her death I continued her work of collecting more data and information. All of this documentation is held in the Open-Air Museum.

Mrs.Meulenbelt wrote at the same time her very famous book: Merklappen en hun Symboliek, of which the first edition was printed in 1974. In the mean time there have been many reprints , of which the latest version from 2005 is present here.

Through this research the difference between the regions became very apparent. Preferences for certain motifs, border or no border, large or small alphabets, more or less letters and numbers and even the difference in religion, protestant or catholic is notable.

Also the difference between schools was noticeable; a school in a town or village, mostly private like here in 1781, or a special professional education, as it was given in an orphanage.

It was clear that only girls from well to do families and the girls in the orphanages, received this type of education. In the working class, children and women worked. Child labour occurred until 1900. It was then that the compulsory education was introduced, preventing children from working.

Sometimes you could see under whose direction the samplers were made. The initial of the lady teacher became a point of recognition. For instance in the case of SB which refers to Sophia Elisabeth Baarselman, who was born around 1736 and who was the teacher and linen mistress of the orphanage of the Dutch Reformed Church in Amsterdam. She was a married working woman and had 9 children of which 3 died at a young age. This in contrast to most sewing teachers who were supposed to spinsters.

Thanks to the archival research by Ferdinand Ex it has become clear who Sophia was and for how long she had held that position. For 28 years, from 1773 to 1801, she worked in this protestant orphanage on the river Amstel in Amsterdam. Specific of her teaching are the small samplers, 20 by 20 cm [ 8 by 8 inches ] which were identical on either side, and embroidered only with red silk on a fine linen base. Where a thread started or finished, was hardly visible.

After she left it appears that her style of teaching was continued. This is shown in a piece with the initials HB, made in 1803, most likely referring to Hendriekie Brok, a colleague of Sophia and now head mistress of a large linen shop!

The making of a sampler and learning to sew, was initially always a personal thing. There always has been education for the well-to-do, which took place in a school or a private home. Girls were taught reading, needlework and sewing at the so-called knitting schools. Even in the 19th century these so-called breischooltjes existed, as I recently discovered in my own village.

Around 1880 a girl started in the first year of primary school with her sampler, on embroidery cloth with red cotton embroidery thread.

When these samplers, made in a certain preset way, appear on the scene, the traditional sampler and darning sampler with their specific recognisable motifs, totally disappeared. Once in a blue moon, you still see the odd old sampler motif, but basically that was it.

These school samplers may have the name of the girl, a year, and name of village or school. They were made until about 1950. 25 years later the teaching of needlework and any textile crafts at primary schools was almost abolished in the Netherlands.


Back to the old samplers.

Dutch samplers are easily recognisable by motifs, structure and design, which differ from region to region: a Friesian sampler from the north looks totally different from a sampler from Zeeland in the south-west, and a Brabant sampler from the south does not look like a sampler from the Zaan region north of Amsterdam.

The motifs are important on every sampler. It is clear that the motifs are not only chosen for their appearance but also for their symbolism.

That Christian beliefs and the bible play an important role here, is without any doubt.

For instance: The carnation

Apart from the rose, the lily and the violet, the carnation is a flower found very frequently on many samplers. These flowers are always connected to the symbolism related to the Virgin Mary.

Further, the carnation is the symbol of maternal love between mother and child.


The garden

The Dutch garden stands for the House of Orange, now our royal family. Many times together with the deer in it, as the symbol for Christ. Or with the Dutch lion in the middle holding 7 arrows.

The Dutch Lion represents the Seven United Dutch Provinces in the 17th and 18th century The lion carried the motto eendragt maeckt magt (unity gives strength) and symbolises power and steadfastness. So together with the surrounded garden, a unity with the House of Orange.


Ship/ boat

The ship is the symbol of the church navigated by Christ and the 4 evangelists, but also it is of course the marriage boat motif.

The mermaid stands for vanity, often with a mirror in the hand.

Tree of life is one of the most important motifs, of very old origins, sometimes flanked by 2 figures, who could be Adam and Eve, or 2 animals.

Often we see birds in, or near the tree of life. They are responsible for the spread of seeds, and in flying form they are the contact with God in heaven. In some cases the tree of life is standing in a vase or pot, which symbolises the life source.

The spies to explore the land of Canaan , Joshua and Caleb,

they cut off a branch, which had one bunch of grapes on it, so heavy, that it took two men to carry it on a pole between them (Numbers 13, verse 23) The depiction of the grape bearers represents abundance.

Many of the motifs which were used on samplers have their origin in the first printed pattern books of the first quarter of the 16th century. In a little pattern book of 1527, I found recently in a library in Paris, are 2 flowerpots with an alphabet in sampler-style.[Regrettably I was not allowed to take pictures of the book.]

In the collection of the Netherlands Open-Air Museum there is also a little pattern book, showing similar flowerpots, as well as stars and crowns. These motifs are recognisable on Dutch samplers.

This pattern book is from around 1700 and printed in Augsburg, Germany, by Christophe Weigel Junior.

Not many more pattern books with specific motifs for samplers are known. Most pattern books are more covering bobbin and needle lace, and have motifs and borders where other embroidery techniques can be used.

Other motifs are objects and things from the sphere of a child. Like on this one the village church, the rabbit, the cradle and the couch with the cushions. Many subjects are mentioned and the Bible seems to be bottomless source of inspiration.

It was Mrs Meulenbelt, who has classified the samplers in different categories, depending on the technique used.

The 19th century with wool embroidered decorative samplers with Berlin patterns do not fit in this classification. They are usually called embroidery samplers but have no connection with the Dutch needlework teaching.

When Mrs.Meulenbelt died in 1981 I took over her job and worked also intensively with the collection, specially with the relationship between samplers and the linen of the trousseau.

According to the latest computer registration the sampler collection of the Netherlands Open-Air Museum contains approximately the following:

708 samplers, or mark samplers
153 letter samplers
52 mark- and letter samplers
20 white-work and open cut work samplers
337 darning samplers
36 sewing samplers
45 sewing and repair samplers
1351 total samplers

This is the result of 50 years actively collecting by buying and receiving gifts, it makes the collection the very special collection as it is now. They all sleep nice and calm in the new storage facility, waiting for more study!

Thank you!

Copyright 2005 – An Moonen,

De relatie tussen linnengoed en merklappen

Merklappen zijn kleine oefenlappen die door kleine meisjes van ca.8-12 jaar zijn gemaakt, om te leren hoe later hun linnenuitzet te merken. Dit gebeurde in Nederland vanaf de 16de eeuw tot aan de vijftiger jaren van onze eeuw.
Omstreeks 1540 eisten de blekers al dat het goed dat ter wasserij werd aangeboden gemerkt moest zijn, om zowel het goed van een persoon te identificeren en te tellen, als wel voor diefstal te behoeden. Een merk geeft immers een identificatie aan het stuk.

Voor de meisjes had het maken van deze lappen meerdere functies:
men leerde de vaardigheid van het borduren en tevens het alfabet, waardoor het kind bordurenderwijs leerde lezen, noodzakelijk voor het lezen de Bijbel.
Merklappen zijn waarschijnlijk uit pieteit en nostalgie voor de maakster goed bewaard gebleven, vaak in de linnenkast bij het linnengoed.

Dit in tegenstelling met het linnengoed dat in een huishouden gewoon gebruikt werd tot het versleten was en werd versteld en vervangen. Alleen de bijzondere stellen met borduurwerk, voor bijvoorbeeld het huwelijksbed of het doodsbed werden wel bewaard. Dat is dan ook vaak het linnengoed dat in de museale collecties is terug te vinden.

Voor ons kleine land is opmerkelijk dat we per regio of stad grote verschillen kennen in het uiterlijk van de merklap, of van de stoplap. Dat maakt het gemakkelijker om te achterhalen waar de lap zijn oorsprong heeft. Tevens geeft bijvoorbeeld de religie een onderscheid, of de school of het weeshuis waar de lap is gemaakt. Soms zijn zelfs de leraressen te traceren doordat het meisje haar initialen op de lap heeft geborduurd. En vaak zijn het de motieven die lokaal erg populair waren.

Van de gebruikte motieven zijn de Druivendragers uit het Oude Testament, de levensbomen gemaakt op velerlei manieren, boten, huiselijke taferelen en voorwerpen die te maken hebben met het huishouden doen en linnengoed te bewerken eigenlijk door het hele land terug te vinden op de merklappen.

Stoplappen hebben nauwelijks merklap motieven, en werden door het iets oudere meisje gemaakt. Ze moest immers de kennis en de kunde hebben dit precieze werk te kunnen doen. De meeste stoplappen werden gemaakt op een linnen of katoenen lap en er werd gestopt met zijde garens. Dat leerde gemakkelijker omdat de draden makkelijk te voegen waren en de juffrouw kon snel zien of er een fout in de stop was gemaakt, doordat de stoppen altijd tweekleurig waren.
De meest gebruikte bindingen in een stoplap zijn gebaseerd op de platbinding en de keperbinding, en dit in alle mogelijke variaties. Het zijn de bindingen die het meest werden gebruikt voor huishoudlinnen. Soms zit er in een stoplap een damastbinding.

Zeldzaam is de witte stoplap met stoppen van wit linnen garen gemaakt en een oefenrandje aan de zijkant van zgn. pareltjes. Parelrandjes vinden we in de 17de eeuw aan schorten, zakdoeken, kragen mooie hemden etc. en waren moeilijk te maken. Het is een naaldkant techniek.

Het linnengoed van de uitzet werd door het meisje gemaakt in haar tienerjaren, of door professionele linnennaaisters. Voor het mooie goed, zoals bijvoorbeeld hemden lakens en slopen, werden de motieven van de merklappen of witwerk lappen gebruikt, zij het dan in een effen kleur: wit, zwart of rood.

Gelukkig is er de laatste 50 jaar actief door musea en particulieren, merklappen en linnengoed verzameld, zodat we kunnen zien hoe de vaardigheid van het kleine meisje zich heeft ontwikkeld van de oefenlappen tot deze prachtige genaaide en geborduurde uitzetten.

Als voormalig conservator textiel van het Nederlands Openluchtmuseum te Arnhem heb ik me veel met deze materie beziggehouden, geinspireerd door mijn voorgangster Mevr.A.Meulenbelt. Van haar is bekend haar standaardwerk MERKLAPMOTIEVEN EN HUN SYMBOLIEK. Nog dagelijks houd ik me met deze vrouwengeschiedenis bezig, waarin zoveel van de sociale rol van de vrouw in onze samenleving uit het verleden is terug te vinden. Het is en blijft ontroerend kindergoed.

Uit mijn eigen collectie hier wat voorbeelden van zowel merklappen en stoplappen.


Stoplap in wit linnen ca.1700.

Let op het parelrandje [muizentandjes], de naaldkant in de cirkel en de naadverbindingen [ in de rechthoek ] om de twee delen van een laken versierend en toch vlak aan elkaar te kunnen naaien.
Maat 41,5×43 cm.


Stoplap anno 1773.Initialen AEG.

Een prachtige stoplap gemaakt door een meisje met een perfecte vaardigheid in stoppen. Bijzondere variaties op semi-damast stoppen.
Maat 49×49 cm.


Merklap 1828

van Antie van Leeuwen out 13 jaren, bovenaan de lap de initialen van haar vader IVL en haar moeder LWM.
Maat 47×38 cm.

Borduurlap met rococo steek, 18de eeuw.

Een borduurlap als deze werd gebruikt als voorbeeld voor te borduren gebruiksvoorwerpen zoals schoenen, kussens, tasjes en beursjes. Behalve de rococosteek zijn hier de petit pointsteek en een variatie op de kruissteek gebruikt in de drie anjers.
Maat 41×39 cm.

Stoplap anno 1694, oudst gedateerde van Nederland, initialen MvM.

Het is een combinatie van zijden en linnen stoppen.

Bovenin een maasstop, dus om breiwerk te repareren. Dit komt vooral op de oudere stoplappen voor.
De stoplap werd aan mijn moeder gegeven op haar 13de jaar door een meisje in haar tekenklas!
Maat 36,5×34,5 cm.


Stoplapje,initialen MAP VDB, eerste kwart 19de eeuw
Maat 17×17 cm.


Merklap met stoppen uit Well, Noord Limburg, anno 1822, katholiek [zie monstrans in het midden].
Maat 45×47 cm.

Stoplap anno 1754, initialen MW
Maat 34×34 cm.


Merklap uit de Achterhoek, Gelderland, anno 1801, initialen INH, inclusief de familieleden NH en misschien de lerares AW.
Het eerste kleine alfabet gaat door tot en met de XYZ, het tweede stopt bij de V.
De getallenreeks gaat door tot en met de 12, een veelvoorkomend getal op het linnengoed van de uitzet.
De rand van de merklap is zo beschadigd door het foute inlijsten in het verleden.
Maat 32×33 cm.


Merklap van het eiland Marken, Noord Holland ca.1650.
De randen worden tot op heden gebruikt voor de dracht. Opmerkelijk is het zwarte paard, bij Marker linnengoed is ook het figuratieve borduurwerk meestal gedaan met effen zwart zijden garen.
Maat 67×27 cm.


Merklap van mijn moeder, 1913 gemaakt in Dordrecht op haar lagere school.
Het is een typisch voorbeeld van het onderwijs handwerk systeem, dat na de invoering van de leerplichtwet in de laatste twintig jaar van de 19de eeuw is ontwikkeld. De lapjes werden met randjes speciaal geweven voor dit doel.
Vaak vinden we 2 alfabetten met verschillende volgorde. De eerste naar moeilijkheid graad, dus eerst de rechte letters IHN etc, en kon het kind dat goed mocht ze het echte alfabet gaan maken.
De hoekmotieven heeft ze nagemaakt van de merklap van haar moeder, Mechelina Sluis.
Mijn moeder was 8 jaar en maakte in de volgende schooljaren tot haar 12de nog meerdere merk- en stoplappen. Tevens werden naailappen gemaakt om goed met de hand te leren zomen en verstellen en werden miniatuur hemdjes en ander ondergoed gemaakt.
Maat 31×31 cm.


Merklap ca.1800, geen initialen of datum!
Van deze lap is een patroon gemaakt door het blad Ariadne, omstreeks 2000.
Maat 37×16,5 cm.

                      Merklap uit Duiven, Gelderland anno 1868, initialen FV. Heel leuk is het meisje met haar ganzen.                               Het hebben van ganzen was belangrijk voor de vulling van de veren bedden en kussens en uiteindelijk natuurlijk voor het vlees.
Maat 48×53 cm.

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