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Modern example of gota and zardozi work from the City Palace, Jaipur. Acquired for the TRC collection on 1st August 2017.Modern example of gota and zardozi work from the City Palace, Jaipur. Acquired for the TRC collection on 1st August 2017.Today, Gillian and I visited Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, India. Since neither of us had ever been here, we were very curious this morning when our taxi driver and his brother, who have been with us for the last few days and have proven to be very patient and amused by our company and weird interests, drew up at the hotel and took us to the city centre. Our first port of call was the City Palace, where, we had been been told, there was a small display of garments worn by the past Maharajas of the city.

We were extremely surprised to discover that the palace grounds house a beautiful little textile museum with the most interesting garments, well displayed and with excellent text boards. They include some beautiful chogas, angharkhas and jamas, as well as a late-nineteenth century Chinese gown bought by the then Maharaja. The most prized item in the displayed collection is a pashmina (both warp and weft) floor covering dating to the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries.

Anyone paying a visit to Jaipur and being interested in textiles and garments used and worn by the Maharajas of Jaipur for the past few hundreds of years should certainly pay a visit. And not only the museum itself was a pleasant surprise, so was the museum shop with high quality merchandising, including textiles and garments made and embroidered in the palace workshop.

The afternoon we spent touring Jaipur and Jaipur bazaar, looking for textiles and textile materials. We ended up in a shop called Satguru’s, managed by Mr Aneesh Sharma, who not only showed us some of his interesting textiles, but also obviously loved talking about them and explaining techniques and giving us the local names. We bought several interesting Rajasthani embroideries, demonstrating various local techniques, including so-called Rajasthani phulkari (normally associated with the Panjab). We completed our tour in the bazaar itself, looking for materials for gota embroidery (characterised by pieces of metal thread ribbon cut or folded to shape). When with the help of many bystanders and some tea one of the bazaaris finally turned up with what we wanted, we decided that it was time to call it a day. A cappuccino in the City Palace was a well-earned reward. Tomorrow we will be heading back to Delhi.

Willem Vogelsang, 1st August 2017

If you ever find yourself near Tartu (Estonia), one place you should visit as a textile enthusiast, is the Estonian National Museum. Besides the wonderful exhibitions about Estonian culture and history, there is since the 22nd of June 2017 the exhibition “Regarded as a norm, perennially worn”. This exhibition consists of 150 sets of traditional folk costumes from all across Estonia. The costumes are from all the rural municipalities of the country and reflect the seasonal and geographical diversity of traditional dress.

Another exhibition that is of particular interest is the permanent exhibition “Echo of the Urals”. This exhibition gives insight into the culture of the Finno-Ugric peoples, who are indigenous to large parts of, among others, Scandinavia and Eurasia. The exhibition is a beautiful mix of costume, culture, daily life, rituals and traditional art of Finno-Ugric peoples. This mix gives a wonderful insight into the cultural landscape through the combination of these cultural elements combined with modern media, such as displays and music. One gets a taste of what it would feel like to be part of the various cultural worlds of Finno-Ugric societies.

When I visited the exhibition it felt like stepping into another world. Through the use of sound you feel like you are truly standing near an isolated cabin in the woods or in the middle of the village square during a festival surrounded by music.

For more information about the museum, see http://www.erm.ee/en and its exhibitions http://www.erm.ee/en/news/regarded-norm-perennially-worn and http://www.erm.ee/en/content/echo-urals

Deandra de Looff, 1st August 2017.

Modern piece of goldwork (zardozi) from Agra, India. Acquired for the TRC collection on 30th July 2017.Modern piece of goldwork (zardozi) from Agra, India. Acquired for the TRC collection on 30th July 2017.Today was spent in sight seeing and embroidery, a well-recommended combination in Agra, India. Agra used to be the capital of the Mughal kings (early 16th to mid-19th centuries) and not surprisingly Mughal period monuments abound. Willem and I went to the Taj Mahal at 07.00 and it was already getting busy. It lived up to expectations! It is an amazing complex and the Mughal inlay work is really beautiful. I now have a much better appreciation of Mughal textiles and designs in general. Then onto the Red Fort (where Willem was ecstatic seeing the so-called Gates of Somnath, which the British took from Mahmud of Ghazni's tomb in Afghanistan in 1842), followed by the exquisite mausoleum of Itimad ud-Daulah ("Baby Taj") and the tomb of the greatest of the Mughal emperors, Akbar, at nearby Sikandra. The latter is a bit disappointing, architecturally, especially after seeing his father's (Humayun's) tomb in Delhi.

After a break we then went looking for Agra embroidery. We had been told by some people that it did not exist and by others that it did. Well, it does and there are three styles associated with Agra, all of which come under the heading of zar-dozi ('precious work' or literally 'gold work') because of the use of metal threads. A characteristic feature of work from Agra is the use of precious and semi-precious gems that are sewn onto the silk and metal thread embroideries. These are in keeping with the Mughal embroidered hangings and carpets that are referred to in early written accounts. We saw one piece that literally glowed due to the silk, metal thread and gems. It only cost 50000 euros... it was very interesting talking with the embroiderers (male in public, with the bulk of the work being carried out at home by women). It would appear that there is a thriving embroidery scene in Agra!

Gillian Vogelsang, 30th July 2017

Printing blocks for chikan embroidery designs, Lucknow, India (27th July 2017).Printing blocks for chikan embroidery designs, Lucknow, India (27th July 2017).Today (27 July 2017) has been spent wandering around the Indian city of Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh. We bought several items, including two veils worn by the groom (sic) at an Indian wedding (Hindu, Muslim and Sikh). These are called sehra and can be made from flowers,, beads, etc. They are hung from the groom’s turban during the early parts of the wedding ceremony. The bride may wear a net veil or sometimes a matching sehra. The examples we bought are for the Shia Muslim community and include the name of Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed.

More specifically, however, we have been learning about chikan thanks to the help of Dr Sugandha Shanker. We first went to the main museum in Lucknow (which is situated in the zoo) to see some nineteenth century examples of chikan (two types, the flat and the raised versions) and then onto the old bazaar and we talked with various craftsmen (especially the block printers) and sellers, as well as briefly discussed embroidery with some of the women who actually produce the work. Thursday is a quiet day in the bazaar and it opens up again in full force on a Friday, but we now have a shopping list for tomorrow of traditional forms, and modern examples of the latest developments, including black chikan. Can this actually be called chikan? Well, according to the people here, yes.

Detail of a pashmina shawl decorated with chikan embroidery, Lucknow, India (photograph 27th July 2017).Detail of a pashmina shawl decorated with chikan embroidery, Lucknow, India (photograph 27th July 2017).We also visited the most amazing designer chikan shop, called ADA, which is run by Mr Haider Ali Khan, a knowledgable and very courteous gentlement who clearly loves chikan. The shop has a wide variety of chikan forms, from traditional to modern. They are also working on sustainable forms of ground cloth, using protein fibres (milk, corn, bamboo, banana, as well as lotus – this one was a new one to me and is very soft). In addition, he very kindly brought out some of the rarest and most valuable examples in his shop, so we could appreciate their beauty. These included one form of chikan worked on a pashmina twill weave ground (extremely difficult to embroider with the chikan techniques) and a chikan sari that took about two years to make (for sale at a simple, one lakh of rupees or about 1400 euros). It is an amazing piece of work and I could just look at it for hours seeing how the stitches and designs have been brought together. In fact I ordered a small sample (A4 size) for the TRC Collection, it will take about three months to make. More about that in the future! I would also like to thank Mr. Khan for a lovely framed piece of chikan embroidery, which he very kindly gave me.

There was another type of embroidery called kamdani, which involves using narrow stripes of metal plate. A type of work that is dying out as it is so labour intensive. Unlike chikan work that is regarded as women’s embroidery, kamdani is worked by men (probably because it involves metal thread). If you are in Lucknow and have time to visit ADA (63 Hazratganj, Lucknow), then please do, it is worth it.

Gillian Vogelsang, 27th July 2017

Detail of a Chinese-style Parsi embroidery from India, made in 2017 for the TRC.Detail of a Chinese-style Parsi embroidery from India, made in 2017 for the TRC.For the last week Willem and I have been in New Delhi, India. Willem for work (leaving me here in Delhi while he went to Thailand for a few days) and me for, well, work if you call hunting for hand embroidery work. Actually it has been quite difficult to find any good quality items. Much is quickly made and sold at relatively high prices by and to people who have little knowledge of the subject. I was offered printed, woven and machine embroidered pieces, even a brass elephant at one point, but little hand embroidery. I would very much like to thank Pralay and Neena Kanungo for helping me chase embroideries in the state emporiums. It was fun, and certainly gave an insight into the embroideries of the many parts of India.

But as the week went on life has improved and I have been talking with various groups about hand embroidery. This information is needed for the new encyclopaedia the TRC is working on, as well as for a possible exhibition about Indian and embroidery. One of the groups I have been talking with are the Parsi, a Zoroastrian group from what is now Iran that has lived in India for a thousand years. They have long been merchants especially with China and not surprisingly, there is a strong Chinese feel (design, colour and technique wise) to much of their embroidery. In the past they also produced European Berlin wool work designs, and amazing portraits worked using ultra-fine single stranded silk threads, as well as their own versions of the Chinese embroideries. The latter combine Chinese, Persian, Indian and European elements.

In addition to talking about embroideries we also talked about Zoroastrian clothing and I have ordered some special items that are worn under normal garments, plus a beaded toran, a form of decoration that goes over the doorway to welcome visitors and protect the home. And, although it is only at the early stages, we have been discussing the possiblity of having one of their students come to the TRC for a month to learn about creating and running a small collection. Interesting days ahead!

I have also been talking with Jasleen Dhamija, the Indian grande dame of textile and embroidery studies. It has been a great privilege to meet and talk with her. Her comprehensive knowledge of Indian and indeed Asian textiles is amazing. She has also very kindly offered to help with the new encyclopaedia, which gives a lot of confidence in what we are doing. Tomorrow Willem and I go to Lucknow to look at chikan embroidery (a form of white work), and then onto Agra to see the Taj Mahal and local embroidery, and then finally onto Jaipur, which has another form of embroidery called gota (which is more of an appliqué technique than embroidery). I am beginning to wonder whether it will be necessary to buy another suitcase for the trip back....

We will certainly miss the hotel we are staying, Lutyens Bungalow along Prthviraj Road; the meals around the long table in the garden, surrounded by squirrels, birds and bats, and the ever so friendly and helpful staff have been a great support, certainly while I was on my own.

Gillian Vogelsang, 25th July 2017

Two Buddhist nuns in pink. Photograph by Shelley Anderson.Two Buddhist nuns in pink. Photograph by Shelley Anderson.I attended an international conference on Buddhist women recently and was fascinated with the variety of robes Buddhist nuns wore. It made me want to learn more.

Buddhism began some 2,500 years ago in northern India. There are three main traditions, each with a distinctive dress, and hundreds of denominations within each tradition.

The oldest tradition within Buddhism is Theravadan, practiced today mainly in southeast Asia. A Theravadan monk’s robe comes in three pieces: a sarong-like piece that falls from the waist to the ankles, tied by a cotton string; a rectangular piece (from two to almost three metres long) that is wrapped like a sari around the body, and draped over both shoulders or only the left shoulder; and a similar extra robe that can be worn in cold weather (called a sanghati robe). The nuns wear the same, plus a bodice underneath the robe.

“There’s a lot of fiddling and readjusting with Theravadan robes. They’re always slipping, as there’s no buttons or knots,” said an Australian Theravadan nun.

The colour of Theravadan robes ranges from orange to yellow to ochre. In Thailand, where there is a controversy about women’s ordination (hence, who can legally wear ordained robes), it can be a radical act for a nun to wear these robes.

Many Buddhist women in Thailand and Cambodia who want to renounce secular life wear a less controversial long white skirt, long-sleeved white blouse and a white rectangular cloth draped over their left shoulder. In Burma, nuns wear a saffron-coloured ankle-length skirt, a pink long-sleeved blouse and a pink rectangular cloth, again draped over their left shoulder.

Fortunately for Theravadans, the earliest Buddhist strictures around the appropriate cloth for robes no longer apply. Originally only cloth that had been thrown away was allowed: cloth soiled by childbirth or menstrual blood; gnawed by oxen or mice; burnt; or shrouds for the dead are specifically mentioned as permissible. Embellishing the robes by adding cowrie shells or owl feathers was prohibited. The cloth was scavenged, washed and then dyed with turmeric or saffron. These colours were supposedly considered unattractive. When I asked a Tibetan nun why her robes were maroon-coloured, I got a similar response: “It’s an unattractive colour.”

Theravadan nun from Thailand. Photograph by Shelley Anderson.Theravadan nun from Thailand. Photograph by Shelley Anderson.As Buddhism spread to northern Asia, robes changed. Exposing the right shoulder, a sign of respect in India, was considered indecent in China. There, nuns started to grow their own food rather than going on alms rounds. A grey long-sleeved tunic and loose trousers were practical to work in; a long-sleeved, ankle-length grey robe (adapted from Daoist robes), tied left over right; and an often differently coloured sanghati robe completed, and still completes, a Buddhist nun’s outfit. . “It’s very convenient and quick, if a visitor comes. Your clothes might be dirty from gardening but slip on a robe and you are ready to receive visitors to the temple,” a nun from Singapore told me.

It is the same in Korea, with some different details: a long grey cloth belt is knotted in front to close the robe. In some orders novices wear brown on their collars and cuffs for their first four years. A grey sun hat, grey tennis sneakers and grey knapsack may complete the nun’s every-day wear.

In Japan, a nun’s dress frequently consists of a white undershirt, and a short tunic and baggy trousers in grey or blue. A black ankle-length robe wrapped left over right (“You would frighten people if you wore it right over left—that’s for a dead person,” a young nun told me) can also be worn. This robe is made of a gauzy material for summer and a heavier material for winter (“It’s all polyester!” the same nun said).

Different denominations are shown by wearing different colored sashes over a shoulder, embroidered with the symbol of the denomination. More adaptations can be expected in robes as Buddhism spreads to the west. One Japanese teacher has suggested that American Buddhist robes should be made of blue denim, as it is inexpensive and common.

Shelley Anderson, 11th July 2017

Some military embroidery on show at the Hand & Lock exhibition. The jacket to the right is the TRC's Bethlehem jacket from Palestine, based on a British military uniform. It dates to the 1920s.Some military embroidery on show at the Hand & Lock exhibition. The jacket to the right is the TRC's Bethlehem jacket from Palestine, based on a British military uniform. It dates to the 1920s.

I have just been to the Hand & Lock "250 Years of Embroidery" exhibition at the Bishopsgate's Institute (230 Bishopsgate) in London. It is only on for two days, so if you have the chance to see it tomorrow (13th July) then please make the effort, it is worth it.

It is a small, intense and thought provoking exhibition that includes a wide range of embroideries from various collections, including the Hand & Lock archives. There are some amazing examples of gold thread embroidery for military and general use, as well as beaded haute couture dress and jumpers, and letters and designs associated with the famous of the fashion and film world. There is, for example, a series of handbags made by Hand & Lock and designed by people such as Vivienne Westward. The handbags will be auctioned later in the year at Sotheby's with the process going to various charities (if only we had €20000 .....).

The exibition includes various themes, such as the history of craftsmanship and working with designers. It includes items from the following, very diverse sources: the Hand & Lock archives, the Diana Springall Collection, the Bishopgate Institute archives, the Lightfoot archive, as well as 'our' TRC Collection (lotus shoes from China, and the 'Bethlehem jacket' with imitation British military decoration; see illustration). The exhibition accompanies a one-day conference (13th July) at the same address about the history of embroidery, past, present and future.

For more information, click here.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 11th July 2017.

Statue of Bishop Julius Yeshu Çiçek at the Monastery of St. Ephrem the Syrian, Glane, the Netherlands.Statue of Bishop Julius Yeshu Çiçek at the Monastery of St. Ephrem the Syrian, Glane, the Netherlands.After a first visit some weeks ago (click here), Willem and I last weekend have spent a little more time at the Syriac Orthodox monastery in Glane, in the east of the Netherlands. We went there to discuss further a display about the life and work of Bishop Julius Yeshu Çiçek, who died in 2005. We are slowly getting closer to the final form and feel, and only need a couple of large showcases..... We have sent letters to various museums and companies to see if they would be willing to donate suitable stands. Hopefully we will have some good news soon.

Following a discussion and demonstration of calligraphy by one of the monks it became clear that this skill played an important role in the life of the deceased bishop and to show his actual writing tools and manuscripts would be an important part of the display. He had a beautiful writing hand and to copy out the various gospels was literally a labour of love and devotion. The display will also include three of his outfits, as well as icons, staffs and objects worn and used by the bishop.

We also discussed the possibility of a book and a travelling exhibition about the Syriac Church, which has the working title, "The Illuminated Church" which will show the relationship between book illiuminations, vestments and embroidery. We have already started talking with members of the Syriac community in the Netherlands as well as nuns, monks and priests about the role that 'Syriac' clothing plays in their lives, at the level of individuals, families and during services. It is written from the outsiders point of view, which means they are going to be asked a lot of questions from two very curious people!

The proposed exhibition is going to include vestments and textiles, from the novice monk to, literally, the patriarch. It will also include manuscripts, book illuminations and texts, as well as embroidered textiles and garments for the congregation, monastic community and liturgical vestments for during a service.

As planned, the book and exhibition will be visually impressive and thought provoking, and hopefully will also inspire people to try a different range of designs and techniques. All being well both the book and the exhibition (which will be available for travelling to suitable venues in Europe and North America) will be ready and available by the summer of 2018.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, Sunday 9th July 2017.

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TRC Gallery exhibition:
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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
 
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