The Textile Research Centre (TRC) was set up in 1991 as an independent foundation. Since 2009 it is housed at Hogewoerd 164, in the centre of historic Leiden, The Netherlands. Here it has the use of an exhibition space, a large depot, offices and workrooms. The basic aim of the TRC is to give the study of textiles, clothing and accessories their proper place in the field of the humanities and social sciences. The TRC does so by providing courses and lectures, carrying out research and by the presentation of textiles and dress from all over the world. The two main focal paints of the TRC are (a) dress and identity: what people wear in order to say who they are and (b) pre-industrial textile technology.
The TRC is officially recognised as a Culturele ANBI ('Algemeen Nut Beogende Instelling'), which confirms its charitable status, as well as making financial donations tax deductible for Dutch tax payers at a favourable rate. In order to reach its objectives, the TRC has and is building up various collections, including a Textile and Garment Collection and a Reference Collection for fibres, threads, dyes, weaves, and so forth. In addition, research is aided by the TRC’s library (some 3000 books, a large collection of articles, as well as visual material such as photographs, prints and postcards). Students, designers and academics come from many countries to Leiden to use the TRC’s facilities and to attend workshops and courses.
Textile, garment and accessories collection
The TRC collection of textiles, garments and accessories includes items from all over the world, literally from the Andes, via Zanzibar, to Japan. The collection now includes more than 28000 items and is still rapidly growing. The objects are used for research, teaching, exhibitions and publications. The catalogue is published on line, with photographs and a brief description of all the items. These items are open access and can be used free of charge as long as the name of the TRC Leiden is mentioned.
Within the Textile and Garment Collection, the TRC has various specializations: notably, regional dress from around the world. The TRC is particularly strong in European dress (from Finland to Sardinia), with attention being paid to Dutch and German forms. The Dutch part of the collection, for example, includes individual garments and outfits for men, women and children, from all the main groups who, during the 19th and 20th centuries, wore Dutch regional dress, urban dress and uniforms. Another strong point of the regional collection is the Middle East and it includes dress for men, women and children, mainly from Egypt, Iran, Oman, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. It is also building up strong Coptic and Syriac monastic and liturgical collections reflecting these ancient Christian community within the Muslim World.
The TRC also has a wide range of items reflecting pre-industrial textile technology including many examples of hand produced textiles and garments, as well as the spindles and looms required to make these items. In this respect another important specialisation of the TRC is its lace (hand and machine) and hand embroidery collections. These decorative textile forms are studied both as regards various techniques and designs, with a special focus on the history and use of lace and embroidery. This focus led to the publication by Bloomsbury Publishers (London, UK) of The Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World (February 2016), which won the prestigious 2017 Dartmouth Medal for an outstanding reference work. A second volume, on Embroidery from Central Asia, the Iranian Plateau and South Asia, has been submitted to the publisher (summer 2019) and will appear in 2020. The third volume will be about Western European embroidery.
A deeper introduction to the diversity of the TRC is collection can be read here.
The TRC is currently building up a reference collection of samples and actual objects that can be used for identification purposes, as well as (in some cases) providing samples for the analytical analysis of textiles (fibre, dye, DNA, etc. analysis). This collection includes fibres samples, thread types, woven and non-woven forms, lace, embroidered and printed textiles, as well as various types of equipment used to make textiles. This reference collection is available to research institutions and scholars to help in the identification of textile forms and techniques. The TRC has been working with the Dutch National Forensic Institute in building up this facility.
The TRC’s library currently includes nearly 4000 books. These books include a wide range of subjects relating to textiles and dress. They are arranged in three basic groups: (a) reference books; (b) ‘how-to’ books, and (c) regional textile and dress studies. A catalogue of the library contents is now on-line. In addition, the library staff is currently cataloguing the TRC’s collections of articles and images/videos, with the aim of bringing them on-line shortly.
In order to ‘spread the word’ about textiles and dress, the TRC organises a series of intensive courses and workshops on a wide variety of textile and dress related subjects, including textile technology. These include a 5-day course on the basic techniques required to produce a textile, which attracts national as well as international students. Workshops include the Wednesday Workshop, which is a mixture of historical background and a practical. Subjects covered by the Wednesday Workshops, organised every last Wednesday of the month, include a wide range of topics, literally from Leiden broadcloth (a form of woollen material), Middle Eastern embroidery, Chinese Straits beadwork and how to wear a Japanese kimono.
The TRC works closely together with Leiden University and other educational institutes, with respect to research and the supervision of students. The TRC has been officially recognised as an erkend leerbedrijf (‘officially recognised educational institution') by the Stichting ECABO (under no. 9767310), in Amersfoort.
In order to make the study of embroidery in its widest meaning more visible and emphasise its role in cultures and societies from all over the world, TRC has started a digital encyclopaedia, TRC Needles, with brief entries on all aspects related to needlework. The encyclopaedia not only discusses the many techniques and materials being used, but also refers to regional traditions, NGO's, commercial companies, scientists and industrialists, paintings and films, all being discussed in order to emphasise the fascinating world of embroidery and its many ramifications, and the approaches it opens to a better understanding of the world.
The TRC presents two exhibitions each year at the TRC Gallery, which are based on items from its collection. A wide range of subjects have been covered, including African textiles and dress, American flour and feed sacks, embroidery from Europe, as well as the Arab World, the Chinese Cheongsam (a dress style popular in China), but also on less traditional subjects, such as that of protective and decorative footwear. Other exhibitions focussed on gold and silver in and on textiles, 18th century woven textiles and garments, as well as clothing used for political purposes. In addition, exhibitions have been made with, amongst others, the National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden; the National Museum of Antiquities, Leiden; Leiden Council; the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam, the Textile Museum, Boras, Sweden, the Fowler Museum, Los Angeles, and the National Art Gallery, Amman, Jordan.