TRC Blog: Textile Moments

Afghan football-star, a real one

Murtaza Ahmadi with his Messi T-shirt. Photograph by his brother.

Murtaza Ahmadi with his Messi T-shirt. Photograph by his brother.

Believe it or not, I know just about nothing about football, apart from the scandals surounding this Swiss bloke and his cronies who seem to have made an awful lot of money out of a simple game. But I do follow the news about Afghanistan and this week there was something in the media that was really nice. A young boy in Ghazni province, not exactly the place to go on holiday, was photographed with a plastic bag as a T-shirt with written on it the name of Messi. Because of the Afghan boy I now know that Messi is a famous football player; I have no idea where and how, and when, but that does not matter. For the Afghan lad Messi is a star, and he is very proud of showing Messi's name. I think the boy is the real star. I understand he is only five years old. His 15-year old brother made him the T-shirt with the name of Messi written on it with a marker pen. Then the brother took a photograph and put it on Facebook. That was some two weeks ago. And that photograph went, as it is called, ' viral'. In the end it was the boy's uncle that recognised the boy. The uncle lives in Australia, another reminder of the Afghan diaspora and the fate of the Afghan people. It is a smile, in an otherwise desperate situation.

Willem Vogelsang, 31 January 2016


Embroidery stamps from Taiwan

Embroidered Qing-period curtain, with postage stamp inserted. Taiwan, modern.

Embroidered Qing-period curtain, with postage stamp inserted. Taiwan, modern.

This morning I had the honour to welcome the new visiting professor in Taiwan Studies to the International Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden. We had a long chat, and at the end my Taiwanese guest and his wife gave me some little presents. When I opened one of them, it happened to be a booklet with a long and folded sheet of thin, gold painted paper, into which five postage stamps are marked out, dated to 2013. The sheet carries a reproduction of a Qing period curtain that is now housed in the National Museum of History, Taipei. The curtain is decorated with embroidery showing flowers and birds, against a background of rich red silk with more flowers, birds, grass, trees, clouds, rocks and other delicately embroidered motifs. It is regarded, according to the accompanying text, as one of the Qing Dynasty's greatest pieces of embroidered art.

This curtain is in reality almost five metres long. The composition centers on an eye-catching peacock. Called "Ode to the Great Earth", the theme of the curtain offers a colourful and beautiful vista of blooming flowers and brightly coloured birds, heralding the arrival of spring. Indeed, a worthy subject for embroidery, and for stamps!

Willem Vogelsang, 22 January 2016


Chester Cathedral

Chester cathedral, embroidered hearse cloth

Chester cathedral, embroidered hearse cloth

Willem and I are in Chester, England, for a few days and could not resist going to the Cathedral, among others to see if they had any embroideries. They are there, but you need to search for them! There is a late 19th century central altar frontal (high altar) made from a cream damask ground with an art nouveau style design of three trees with intertwining grape vines, leaves and bunches of grapes, flanked by small bushes, possibly olive ones, but that was not clear. Tucked away in one corner (see photograph) is a 19th century hearse cloth with a blue silk damask ground, embroidered with couched gold thread (passings). The design is hard to see, as it has been placed on a wooden roller inside a wooden case, but there are bishop's crosier with what looks like a W alternating with lilies, as well as coats of arms.

In another part of the Cathedral there is an appliqué dedicated to the United Nations that is a commissoned piece dating to AD 2000. For the Christmas period there was an appliqué panel depicting the Chester Mystery Plays, a series of medieval plays based upon the life and death of Jesus Christ. In this case, it was the Chester series, depicted with buildings from the centre of the city. A bit of fun, and nicely done. There were also several large-scale, appliqué banners, depicting Mary and Child, as well as the the Creation (stars, birds and fishes).

Finally, in a chapel dedicated to the Cheshire regiments, there are a number of flags, with regimental honours. Some of the flags look as if they date from the early 19th century and were embroidered with the names of various battles. But they were so high up it was difficult to be sure.

But what about vestments? Alas nothing was on view, the various people we asked said: yes, there are vestments, but they were not sure what, where, or whether they were embroidered. A cathedral with the history of Chester's should have embroideries and vestments dating back several centuries, if not longer. I will be persuing this and trying to find out what they have. My curiosity has been piqued!! Chester beware.

Gillian Vogelsang, 2 January 2016


The curtains of the Sistine chapel in Rome

Murals in the 4th century AD Romulus temple, Rome, representing long line of wall curtains. 13th century AD.

Murals in the 4th century AD Romulus temple, Rome, representing long line of wall curtains. 13th century AD.

Never thought I would ever get particularly interested in something as mundane as curtains, but right now, spending a week in Rome with Gillian, I am afraid I am starting to see curtains everywhere, or to be more precise, what I see all the time are paintings of curtains. Perhaps the moment has come to go back to Leiden. Anyhow, it all started some days ago when I saw some wall paintings, or at least fragments thereof, in the circular temple of Romulus (nota bene: not the Romulus of Remus fame, but an early 4th century AD son of a Roman emperor) at the Forum Romanum. The temple, as so many other ancient buildings in Rome, was later converted into (part of) a church, namely the basilica of Santi Cosma e Damiano. The frescoes I am alluding to once ran all along the lower part of the inside of the wall of the building, and represent a continuous line of curtains. The frescoes allegedly date to the thirteenth century, to the time of Pope Urbanus IV (1261-1264). The curtains, as can be seen from the photograph, are depicted as being tied at regular intervals around a (painted) beam above (hence the draped fold lines). The top of the depicted curtain has a thick band that is bejewelled. From this band hangs the wide curtain itself. The ground material of the curtain is in white, with three wide horizontal bands alternating with quatrefoils of various sizes.

Sistine chapel, Rome, showing paintings of curtains along the walls. Late 15th century.

Sistine chapel, Rome, showing paintings of curtains along the walls. Late 15th century.

With these curtains in mind, we visited the next morning the Sistine Chapel (together with tens of thousands of others, all at the same time, but at least we did not get a selfie-stick poked into our eyes). But instead of being awestruck again by the magnificent frescoes along the upper part of the walls and Michelangelo's masterpiece on the ceiling, I was suddenly made aware of ...... a line of curtains painted along the lower tier of the chapel's walls. I had never noticed them before. Did you? Some of them were shown as being draped, others were not. These paintings, I was told, date to the late fifteenth century and the time of Pope Sixtus IV. Most of them are damask-like with silver or gold thread decoration, others, without the emphasised fold lines, are shown flat with very little drape, imitating velvet.

And yesterday, in the Santa Maria Maggiore, I again saw the same feature, namely, a painted curtain, but this time on a wooden screen in one of the side chapels.

I am quite sure that art historians have written complete libraries on the subject of these paintings of curtains, hence my apologies, but I had never noticed them, although such painted curtains or draperies can probably be found in many other places. But what sort of nutter looks at paintings of curtains when there is so much else to admire? But in any case, what a treasure trove for further research into medieval textiles and their different types of decoration.

Willem Vogelsang, 26 December 2015


Yemeni embroidery workshop at the TRC

On Saturday 19th December there was a Yemeni embroidery workshop at the TRC. Normally these workshops are on the last Wednesday of the month, but because of Christmas it was moved to the Saturday just before we closed for a few weeks over the holiday period (we re-open on the 11th January). This was also an open day at the TRC and literally, the last chance to see the colourful, Yemeni clothing and jewellery exhibition. The workshop was led by myself and consisted of a guide tour of the exhibition about Yemeni embroidered garments and jewellery, and concentrated on the decorative needlework aspects. This was then followed by the participants of the workshop trying out a range of embroidery stitches and motifs all based on blanket and chain stitches. All of these forms can be found back in Saudi Arabian and Yemeni garments. The final section of day involved looking at one particular garment and then reproducing various patterns and motifs on black cotton cloth using a thick, white cotton thread. Something that was totally new for the participants. The time went very quickly indeed. The workshop was immediately followed the TRC’s Christmas party (members of the workshop were also invited!), which gave us the chance to relax, talk with good friends, eat good food surrounded by amazing textiles and garments. What a wonderful way to end a very busy year!

Gillian Vogelsang, 20 December 2015


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