TRC Blog: Textile Moments

Two unique groups of Afghan clothing added to the TRC collection

Embroidered trousers for Afghan wrestler in a zurkhana ('House of Strength'), Kabul, early 20th century.

Embroidered trousers for Afghan wrestler in a zurkhana ('House of Strength'), Kabul, early 20th century.

The last few days have been spent on the glorious (and very wet) Cote d’Azur in southern France. It sounds good, but it was actually for work. The TRC was offered a collection of Afghan garments, caps and shoes by May and Rolando Schinasi, who lived and worked in Afghanistan in the 1950s and 60s. They have some amazing stories to tell about when there were only five foreign companies in Afghanistan, and when in the 1950s Rolando was the only foreigner in Kandahar.

During their period in Afghanistan they bought many items to decorate their home and to enjoy, including lengths of silk cloth, Uzbek ikats, chapans (long coats), a beautifully embroidered baby’s cradle, a pair of leather trousers used for the Persian/Afghan gym (the zurkhana) illustrated here, a hunting cloth, and so forth. They are now tidying up and were told about the TRC via a friend. So Willem and I went to Nice to talk with them and to make sure they were happy and comfortable about the destination of their collection.

We left with two large bags full of items and these are now in the TRC deep freezer. But that is not the end of the story. Mrs Shinasi also has a large jewellery collection (Pashtun, Tajik, Turkmen and Uzbek), and eventually these pieces will also come to the TRC. In addition, she told a friend, Prof. Mark Slobin (USA), about us and he has a collection of Afghan items bought between 1967 and 1972. They were actually delivered to the TRC this morning. Everything is now in the deep freezer, and then next week the TRC is going to look a little like an Afghan bazaar! The Slobin collection includes, among many items, beautiful Uzbek silk ikats, chapans for men, a hunting hood, a crochet/beaded front for a dress, as well as a long, plait (braid) bag for keeping a woman’s hair in order.

To add to the story above, we have added a water colour made between 1835 and 1838 by Godfrey Vigne, a renowned traveller in the Indo-Iranian borderlands (and accomplished cricketer!). It shows a wrestler from Kabul, wielding the two characteristic clubs of the zurkhaneh, still of a type being used in modern Iran, and wearing the equally characteristic trousers, of which a beautifully embroidered example has now been so kindly donated by May and Rolando Schinasi to the TRC.

Once photographed and catalogued, all of the new items, added to the TRC’s own collection, will mean that the TRC has an extensive holding of Afghan textiles and garments. Through these and other donations, covering all parts of the world, the TRC collection is now becoming a world class resource centre, and shortly many of our items will be online. This will give people around the world access to the many fascinating items in our collection.

As you can imagine, the TRC collection is growing rapidly and we need to find serious funding to expand our storage facilities. If you know of someone who would be willing to become a TRC patron and help us achieve our full potential as a research and educational centre for textiles and dress, please tell them about us!

Gillian and Willem Vogelsang, 17 June 2016


A trip to southern Germany, continued

The Sternenmantel of Henry II, early 11th century. Bamberg.

The Sternenmantel of Henry II, early 11th century. Bamberg.

Today, Saturday 11 June, we travelled to Bamberg, a large, medieval city in southern Germany, about two hours by train from Regensburg. Here we went straight to the Diözesanmuseum in order to see the mantles and other garments associated with the Holy Roman Emperor Henry (Heinrich) II and his wife, St. Kunigunde. They reigned in the early eleventh century. The museum also houses various papal garments associated with Pope Clement II who died in 1047 (his tomb is the only papal burial north of the Alps).

On display in a separate room in the museum there are three mantles and one cope (called a pluvale here in Germany), all related to Henry II and his wife, Kunigunde. These are the famous Sternenmantelthe so-called Knights mantle (Rittermantel), the Great Mantle of St. Kunigunde, and the Cope of St. Kunigunde. The same room also contains a bell-shaped chasuble and a tunic especially associated with St. Kunigunde. All the garments date to the early eleventh century, although they have been heavily restored over the centuries.

To actually go and see the Sternenmantel, as well as St. Kunigunde's Great Mantle, and the Knights mantle was something we had wanted to do for several years, and it was well worth it. The silk and gold thread embroidery is spectacular.

The Clement items, which were recovered from his sarcophagus in 1942, included various silk, silk damask as well as other woven textiles, such as a pair of stockings (better: buskins) made from a very fine damask silk, and a large, pontifical dalmatic. Many of these silks have been given a Byzantine origin.

And of course in the Bamburg treasury is the famous Byzantine wall hanging depicting two women flanking an emperor on horseback, which also comes from the tomb of Clement. The Bamburg museum also contains liturgical vestments from various periods, as well as an amazing collection of medieval wood and stone sculptures, wood carvings in general and metal items such as reliquies and items for on the alter. Well worth a visit.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 11 June 2016


A trip to southern Germany

The imaginary portrait of Charlemagne, by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg.

The imaginary portrait of Charlemagne, by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg.

Willem and I are on our travels again, this time to southern Germany. We spent yesterday (Thursday) in Nuremberg, notably at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum. They have a wonderful collection of medieval and later sculptures and paintings. Among them is Albrecht Dürer's imaginary painting of Charlemagne, wearing the regalia of the Holy (German) Roman Emperor. He is thus seen wearing the famous mantle of Roger II of Sicily from the early twelfth century, together with the imperial gloves, the beautifully decorated stola and the red (?) tunic with the imperial eagles. All of these items are, so it would appear, now in the Kaiserliche Schatzkammer in Vienna, where we were so fortunate to see them two years ago. Seeing the painting by Dürer and realising that it most probably shows centuries-old imperial garments that are actually still extant and can still be admired, is a real confrontation with history. 

In addition, the museum has a special, very large gallery dedicated to German (and some Dutch) urban and regional dress, including male and female underwear. You don't see that very often in museums! Finally someone who has taken this part of dress seriously. Also lots of sports clothes, headgear and footwear. Well worth a visit to Nuremberg to see the gallery. In addition, according to the museum's website, they have an active team working on cataloguing and making available their extensive textile, clothing and jewellery collection. It is a site worth watching at regular intervals to see what is happening.

Today, Friday 9th June, is being spent in Regensburg, about one hour by (fast) train to the south of Nuremberg. The cathedral is a great, Gothic building with a small museum filled with liturgical garments dating from the eleventh century onwards, including many items of embroidery, notably a bishop's mitre and gloves, chasubles, dalmaticas as well as copes and cope hoods. There is a fifteenth century cope, for example, that has much earlier (tenth century) gold thread embroidery. There is alse a chasuble that has an early gold thread orphrey, whereby the background is worked in swirls of couched gold. It is said to come from Regensburg itself and is certainly very different in appearance and techniques from its northern counterparts.

This afternoon, while Willem has some University business to attend to, is being spent looking at a more modern tradition, namely Bavarian regional dress. There are at least three shops in walking distance of the cathedral that sell regional dress for men and women, and it remains a living tradition. This morning we saw a wedding party near the cathedral and several women were wearing the Dirndle outfit (blouse, waistcoat, skirt, apron) outfit, as well as men in embroidered lederhosen. There was also one shop that had a bridal version of the Dirndle outfit. I have never been that interested in German regional dress, but thanks to the TRC being given the Kircher Collection (with hundreds of items of German regional clothing) some months ago, it is something I am now looking at and becoming aware of what a diverse world it is.

This feeling intensified later in the afternoon when I went to the Historisches Museum Regensburg. Although I did not have an appointment I was able to talk with one of the staff about German regional dress and the TRC's problem of how to identify some of the unlabelled items from the Kircher Collection. Help was immediately offered! We are also going to talk about how the two institutes can work together with respect to exhibitions and research. By coincidence the museum also had on display an exhibition, called Heimat auf der Haut -Tracht in der Operpfalz, which is about nineteenth century regional dress from the Oberpflaz region of Germay. So we had an interesting time looking at the garments together and discussing their origins, uses, embroidery forms, etc. The exhibition runs until the beginning of July and is well worth seeing. There is also a catalogue to the exhibition, which will be discussed in the next, Books Showcased (June 2016) item of the TRC website. Tomorrow we are going to Bamburg to see some more medieval textiles and garments!

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 10 June 2016


Duct tape dresses

Duct tape dress. TRC collection.

Duct tape dress. TRC collection.

I’ve heard of textiles grown in test tubes from genetically engineered bacteria, and of clothing made from recycled plastic or even rare spiders’ silk. But it took my 17 year-old niece in America to teach me about a textile made from a material most commonly found in tool boxes. I’m talking duct tape. That grey-coloured industrial tape you use to wrap around a frayed electrical cord or to fix a broken lawn chair.

For several years teenagers in the States have been making party clothes out of duct tape. My niece has donated one such dress she made to the TRC, where it’s now on display. She wore the dress in May 2014 to an annual Duct Tape Costume Ball, organized by an educational programme called Destination Imagination. The event made the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest gathering (with 752 participants) of people wearing duct tape yet. The garment is made from a sleeveless dress found in a second hand shop and several rolls of duct tape. The top of the dress is a synthetic fabric covered in sequins, while the attached skirt is made from gold-coloured duct tape with a deliberately uneven hem. The duct tape makes the skirt somewhat stiff and heavy to wear, but the dress as a whole looks actually fashionable.

A Google search for “duct tape clothes” revealed over 650000 items, plus countless photographs and videos. The creativity shown is wonderfully surprising: from tuxedos and floor-length gowns to characters from popular movies (my personal favourite: a young woman dressed as the Death Star spaceship from the Star Wars film, accompanied by a Jedi Knight). There are tutorials in how to make duct tape dresses, and accessories such as corsages, bow ties, clutch bags and belts. Sewers are also using duct tape to make tailor-made mannequins and dress stands. The model, in bra and T-shirt, is wrapped in duct tape. When the ensemble is taken off, you have a mannequin with the right measurements to work from.

Making your own clothes from duct tape has also led to another phenomenon: the ABC party. ABC stands for “anything but clothes”. In other words, no textiles of cotton or synthetics, but more non-traditional materials. YouTube also has hundreds of videos of people making clothes out of playing cards or loofahs or, of course, duct tape. Duct tape manufacturers such as 3M and Shurtech Brands have capitalized on this trend. Not only is duct tape now manufactured in a wide range of colours and motifs; businesses are also organizing competitions for the most original or colourful duct tape garment, with cash prizes and scholarships for the winners. While I doubt duct tape will be the textile of the future, I do applaud the creativity and sense of fun people like my niece are showing in exploring new materials.

Shelley Anderson, 29 May 2016


Textile Museum Lyon, France

Portrait of Jacquard woven in silk on a Jacquard loom (1839). The portrait requires 24000 punch cards to weave.

Portrait of Jacquard woven in silk on a Jacquard loom (1839). The portrait requires 24000 punch cards to weave.

Yesterday, 21 May, a meeting of the European Alliance for Asian Studies brought me to Lyon in France and I had the chance to visit the world famous textile museum, or better the Musée des Tissus et des Arts décoratifs. Last year plans were circulating to close down the museum because no new funding could be found, but these plans seem to have been shelved.

The museum and the textiles that are exhibited are fabulous. One of the larger rooms contains a group of beautiful late 17th century tapestries, and the easy chairs that are placed opposite them invite people to sit down and look at these huge pieces at length. Lyon is, of course, famous for its silk and textile industry, and the development, in the early 19th century, of the Jacquard loom, a beautiful example of which is placed in the museum. Even after so many years it remains a marvellous piece of engineering. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the principle of the Jacquard loom, it is a mechanical instrument that is driven by cards with holes punched into them, each card determining one  row (throw) of the woven textile. Joseph Marie Jacquard (1752-1834) did not devise this loom out of nothing; he built upon earlier inventions and innovations. He became especially famous when a few years after his death a portrait of his was 'punched' and woven to order. 

The museum itself is housed in the beautiful 18th century Hôtel de Villeroy, which was the residence of the governor of Lyon in the 18th century. 

Willem Vogelsang, 22 May 2016


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TRC in a nutshell

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

Opening times: Monday to Thursday: 10.00-16.00 hrs, other days by appointment. Holidays: until 11 August

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

Entrance is free, but donations are always welcome !

TRC Gallery exhibition: 5 Sept. -19 Dec. 2019: Socks&Stockings

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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: 

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