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On Saturday 4 April, TRC volunteer Susan Cave wrote:

The impressions we have of Southern Appalachia are often those of making moonshine and of people shooting their neighbours. Folklore and misconception most of it, but there are definitely ‘mountain people’ in those hills and while the men may have been handy with their shotguns, the women were certainly handy with their needles making ‘mountain quilts’. The TRC Chinese Coin quilt (TRC 2019.2229) has a story that follows a misconception, misrepresentation, folklore, call it what you like….

Chinese Coin quilt from North Carolina, USA, c. 1900 (TRC 2019.2229).Chinese Coin quilt from North Carolina, USA, c. 1900 (TRC 2019.2229).

On Friday, 3 April 2020, TRC volunteer Shelley Anderson wrote:

Spools of silk and a winding mill, to prepare a warp for weaving, Maison des Canuts, Lyons. Photograph: S. Anderson.Spools of silk and a winding mill, to prepare a warp for weaving, Maison des Canuts, Lyons. Photograph: S. Anderson.

Many people are having to work from home during the corona virus pandemic. Working from home has a long history in textiles, as I discovered visiting a small museum in Lyons, France (pre-pandemic, I will add). Lyons, in the south of France, was the French centre for silk production for over 400 years. The Maison des Canuts (House of the Canuts) is a small museum in Lyons’s old Croix Rousse area. Canuts were independent silk weavers who worked out of their own homes. They had up to three looms in their home and they supervised journeymen, whom they provided with room and board.

Weaving gold thread passementerie in the Maison des Canuts, Lyons. Photograph: S. Anderson.Weaving gold thread passementerie in the Maison des Canuts, Lyons. Photograph: S. Anderson.

In the early 19th century there were an estimated 8,000 canuts in Lyon alone, supervising some 20,000 other silk weavers. Canuts were the mainstay of Lyons’s silk industry, and their silk made Lyons a true city. By the mid-19th century one out of every two workers in the city was involved in the silk trade. The international demand for French silk was huge; one-third of all of France’s manufactured exports was silk textiles, produced in Lyon.

On Thursday, 2 April 2020, former TRC volunteer Alice Jaspars wrote from London:

In times such as these, the importance of tradition is evident. Seeking to align ourselves with histories, both national and personal, is one way in which we can anchor ourselves when the world seems increasingly uncertain.

Yet many of the traditions we consider to be the oldest are in fact recent and even invented. There is no better example of this than the adoption of the Scottish kilt. Worn by school children and members of the armed forces alike, the tartan garb unites classes and nations in kind.

A 78th Highland Regiment kilt (1970’s, Scotland; TRC 2016.0571b).A 78th Highland Regiment kilt (1970’s, Scotland; TRC 2016.0571b).

On Wednesday, 1st April 2020, TRC volunteer Heidi-Elena Stanionyte (Estonia), wrote:

Regional costumes can be considered as an the important part of many world cultures. In the Baltic countries, Estonia has a significant range of costumes from different regions, which are also known as parish. A well-known region is Kadrina parish, which is situated in the northern part of the country. A characteristic feature of its regional costume is a blouse with embroidered decoration (called ‘’käised” in Estonian), which covers the front and the collar.

Kadrina embroidered blouses are worn by married and unmarried women, together with a simple sleeveless shirt. The blouses are made of linen, which is a material that was widely used in other parishes around Estonia. Typically, the embroidery is worked with bold colours, especially reds, blues and greens.

The Kadrina blouse collection in the Estonian National Museum houses many examples of these blouses, with rich floral embroidery worked with silk, cotton or woollen thread. The oldest examples date to the late seventeenth century. 

Detail of an embroidered blouse from the Kadrina parish, northern Estonia, early 21st century (TRC 2020.0010).Detail of an embroidered blouse from the Kadrina parish, northern Estonia, early 21st century (TRC 2020.0010).

The history of this form of embroidery goes back to the times when the Baltic Germans ruled Estonia. Local women learned the technics of embroidery from the Germans. They appreciated this form of exotic embroidery. As the time passed, Estonian handicraft embraced the foreign influences and incorporated them into their own traditions. For example, golden sequins were added, and this extra feature is seen on a blouse now housed in the TRC Collection (TRC 2020.0010), and illustrated here.

On Tuesday, 31 March 2020, Gillian Vogelsang wrote:

We have just had a question about the first textile that was donated to the TRC Collection. Well, the first group of textiles (66 items) were donated by Willem and me and were given because of a desperate need for actual textiles and garments for students to work with. They were mainly Afghan and Middle Eastern items picked up during our work and travels in various countries. As a result, since its conception in 1997 the TRC Collection has been regarded as a handling and teaching collection.

Woman's blouse from Croatia, early 20st century (TRC 1997.0067).Woman's blouse from Croatia, early 20st century (TRC 1997.0067).

The first donation (TRC 1997.0067) 'from outside' was made by Toos Roosen - van Gils (Leiden). It was also a wonderful example of textile serendipity: Toos had spotted a very dirty textile in the bottom of a box in a flea market in Leiden. She paid 2.5 fl (a rijksdaalder) for it (about one euro). Not a lot of money.

On Saturday, 28 March 2020, Gillian Vogelsang wrote:

Three years ago, the TRC in Leiden was given a collection of books, postcards, garments and textiles by Pepin van Rooijen in Amsterdam. Also included was a large number of woven, printed and embroidered textile samples that used to belong to the French artist and designer, Professor Yves Cuvelier (1913-2005), who was closely involved with the Parisian fashion industry in the decades after the Second World War. Much of the information below was graciously provided by Yves Cuvelier's son, Antoine Cuvelier.

Cloth sample from the 1950's, initially collected by Yves Cuvelier (TRC 2020.1190).Cloth sample from the 1950's, initially collected by Yves Cuvelier (TRC 2020.1190).

On Friday, 27 March, Gillian Vogelsang wrote:

We have had several emails about what is happening to the TRC's current American Quilt exhibition, as we are shut because of the corona virus epidemic and may be for some time.

TRC's American Quilts exhibition temporarily being taken down, 27 March 2020.TRC's American Quilts exhibition temporarily being taken down, 27 March 2020.

The main question is: How can people still see the exhibition? Well, as soon as it is possible (hopefully in late April) we will re-open the TRC. We have also extended the exhibition until at least the end of August. We are also planning to remain open in July, and not close the premises for that month, as we normally do, so there will be much more time to see the exhibition! We are also making an online exhibition based on the textboards, with photographs of all the objects in the display.

Another question that is frequently asked is what is happening to the quilts while we are closed? Won't they get damaged when they are hanging for a long time? The answer is simple: we are giving them a ‘rest’! We have already taken the quilts down that were hanging on poles and we rolled them up. The other quilts have been folded and stored flat. As soon as the TRC re-opens they will be put back on display.

On Friday, 27 March, Susan Cave, who is a TRC-volunteer and co-curator of the current American Quilts exhibition at the TRC, wrote the following about the recent demise of the American company of Sears Roebuck: 

This year (February 2020), Sears Roebuck closed the last of its stores. A household name for well over 120 years, America has lamented its passing. The Mail Order Catalogue had already ceased in 1993 after the company began losing hundreds of millions of dollars in the heady days of re-structuring business and industry. The glossy thousand-odd pages of the most famous catalogue the world has ever known stopped being printed.

Just about every American who lived in the 20th century grew up with Sears Roebuck as a household name. It was a department store in paperback, a book of dreams that sold everything, from a plough to quilting thread. Stuck out on a farm in the middle of nowhere did not matter. Sears would not only deliver, but they would also guarantee the quality.

Quilters have a lot to thank Sears for, apart from providing billions of yards of fabric, batting and thread. They might well have been the one company on earth that gave quilts the hike up into the art world. Eighty-three years ago, in the January edition of the 1933 catalogue, a small 2-inch by 3-inch notice announced a quilt contest to celebrate Chicago’s ‘Century of Progress Fair'. In Depression America the fabulous sum of US$7000 was offered in total prize money. The hefty first prize was $1000. A lot of dollars, even on today’s standard. Adjusted for inflation, the sum is $19616.35. Just imagine a quilter winning that!

Quilt worked on pieces from the 1941 Sears Roebuck catalogue (TRC 2018.3129).Quilt worked on pieces from the 1941 Sears Roebuck catalogue (TRC 2018.3129).

There were 24878 entries and a total of five million people visited the Fair. An enterprising newspaper reporter worked out that the exhibits represented 642 years of quilting for eight hours a day. Many of our quilts at the TRC have been inspired by that small notice in the Sears Catalogue. In fact, we have a 1930’s quilt that was made with fabric pieces sewn on to their pages (TRC 2018.3129)! What a powerful effect it had on a population that was living through such troubled times. The organisers must have been well pleased, if not horrified, at the sheer volume of the mail.

Detail of the pieced quilt, showing pages from the Sear Roebuck catalogue (TRC 2018.3129).Detail of the pieced quilt, showing pages from the Sear Roebuck catalogue (TRC 2018.3129).

I am truly saddened that Sears went on the skids, especially as it was taken so much for granted through the years. But adapting to new technology and fighting the emerging giants of the internet were all too much. In the Quilting Hall of Fame, Sears Roebuck Inc., deserve, in my opinion, pride of place. If only we could find some modern day wonder to provide us with that that same kind of inspiration – and prize money – for these dark days ahead.

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Hogewoerd 164
2311 HW Leiden.
Tel. +31 (0)71 5134144 /
+31 (0)6 28830428  

Open on Mondays - Thursdays
from 10.00 - 16.00.

Bank account number:
NL39 INGB 0002 9823 59,
Stichting Textile Research Centre

Entrance is free, but donations are always welcome!

TRC Gallery exhibition:
5 Febr. -25 June 2020: American Quilts

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The TRC is dependent on project support and individual donations. All of our work is being carried out by volunteers. To support the TRC activities, we therefore welcome your financial assistance: donations can be transferred to bank account number NL39 INGB 000 298 2359, in the name of the Stichting Textile Research Centre.
Since the TRC is officially recognised as a non-profit making cultural institution (ANBI), donations are tax deductible for 125% for individuals, and 150% for commercial companies. For more information, click here
Financial donations to the TRC can also be made via Paypal: