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
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
[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course no longer valid!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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Until now, only 4 dated 17th century darning samplers
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
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
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, women’s
and men’s 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
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
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
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
The motifs are important on every sampler. It is clear that the
motifs are not only chosen for their appearance but also for
That Christian beliefs and the bible play an important role
here, is without any doubt.
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 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
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.
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
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
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:
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!
- An Moonen,
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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 piëteit en nostalgie voor de
maakster goed bewaard gebleven, vaak in de linnenkast bij het
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
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
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
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.
Sommige lappen moeten nog geconserveerd worden.
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Stoplap in wit linnen
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 41,5x43 cm.
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Een prachtige stoplap
gemaakt door een meisje met een perfecte vaardigheid in stoppen.
Bijzondere variaties op semi-damast stoppen.
Maat 49x49 cm.
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Merklap 1828 van Antie
van Leeuwen out 13 jaren, bovenaan de lap de initialen van haar
vader IVL en haar moeder LWM.
Maat 47x38 cm.
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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 41x39 cm.
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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
De stoplap werd aan
mijn moeder gegeven op haar 13de jaar door een meisje
in haar tekenklas!
Maat 36,5x34,5 cm.
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VDB, eerste kwart 19de eeuw
Maat 17x17 cm.
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Merklap met stoppen
uit Well, Noord Limburg, anno 1822, katholiek [zie monstrans in
Maat 45x47 cm.
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Stoplap anno 1754,
Maat 34x34 cm.
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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 32x33 cm.
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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 67x27 cm.
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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 31x31 cm.
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Merklap ca.1800, geen
initialen of datum!
Van deze lap is een
patroon gemaakt door het blad Ariadne, omstreeks 2000.
Maat 37x16,5 cm.
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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 48x53 cm.
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Copyright Ⓒ2004-2016 An Moonen