TRC Blog: Textile Moments

The TRC in Edinburgh

The last few days have been very varied. I was asked by the organisers of the Iranian Festival in Edinburgh (February 2015) to give a brief talk about the history of the chador (Saturday 7 February, at the National Museum of Scotland) and then a full length lecture about Iranian regional dress at The Nomad's Tent on Sunday (8 February). It was fun talking about these subjects and listening to the other participants, that included Dr. Lloyd LLewellyn-Jones (Edinburgh University), Dr. Nacim Pak-Shiraz (Edinburgh University) and Dr. Friederike Voigt (National Museum of Scotland). A wide range of subjects were discussed, from early cut-to-shape Iranian garments, 19th century garments for men, and a small collection of beautiful women's garments from the Qajar period now in the National Museum.

But the weekend was not just about lectures. There was a chance to see an amazing and very beautiful range of clothing in a fashion show, called Persian Chic: Contemporary Iranian Fashion, which presented the work of four modern Iranian fashion designers, including that of Naghmeh Kiumarsi, 'Zarir', Diba Mehrabi and Kourosh Gharbi. The work of Gharbi was impeccable.

In addition, Willem and I also had the chance to pop into the National Gallery of Portraits, where we searched for paintings with embroidery. We spotted several that will be shortly appearing in TRC Needles. We also had fun chasing some leads to the early history of whitework embroidery in Edinburgh, including the history of Louis Ruffini, an Italian textile entrepreneur, who lived here along Nicolson Street in the late 18th century. Sadly one of the buildings he was particularly associated with has long been demolished, but opposite there is now a Starbucks, where Sunday afternoon, it so happened, we had coffee with Jennifer Scarce, a well-known Middle Eastern costume historian.

We are also looking for examples of Ayreshire whitework embroidery - should you have any you are willing to donate to the TRC then please let me know. Our goal is to turn the TRC into an international centre for the study of embroidery, and thanks to the help of many people we are well on the way!

We finished our all too brief excursion to Scotland with a long overdue visit to the most intriguing and fascinating chapel of Rosslyn.

Gillian Vogelsang, 10 February 2015


Visit to Egypt

Man from Cairo, Egypt, working goldthread embroidery. Photograph by Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, December 2014.

Man from Cairo, Egypt, working goldthread embroidery. Photograph by Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, December 2014.

I have just got back from Egypt where I attended a conference about science and archaeology (organised by the German Archaeological Institute, Cairo), as well as giving a lecture about the textiles and garments of Tutankhamun at the Grand Egyptian Museum, Giza. The conference was held in Cairo and Aswan, which made the logistics difficult, but on the other hand we were able to talk with many more people.

During my stay in Cairo and Aswan I had several textile moments and I thought you might like to see/hear about them. Firstly in Aswan I came across a hand weaver working on the island of Elephantine. His family comes from Naqada (you can see that with some of the striped and triangular designs he produces), but his loom was unusual. It was very short and tension was provided by a system of winches, with the warp thread going vertically. The weight under the loom was a statue of an ancient Egyptian goddess! (a modern version I should add). The man makes lovely cotton shawls of various sizes.

Then back in Cairo, near the Street of Tentmakers, we went into the last of the tarbush makers (fezzes, a form of headgear) from that area. How long they will be able to continue working is another question. Tourist numbers have dropped by 80% and many craftsmen, including the tarbush makers, are really struggling. A little further on there was a man producing gold thread embroidery – I have never seen anyone doing this in public – the results yes, but not the craftsmen. His work was tensioned by a small, rectangular frame and he used card templates for the designs, which were covered with a cotton thread and then crinkly purl (a form of metal thread). His young son was helping him!

And finally onto the Street of the Tentmakers, where, once again, I bought too much. But these will form an important element in the TRC’s new exhibition that opens on the 4th of January (that is my excuse and I am keeping to it). Some of the pieces are exquisite and I have never seen such fine appliqué work before. Amazing. You can see these and many other pieces at the TRC Gallery from January until the end of April 2015.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 14 December 2014


Little treasure box

Early 19th century embroidery. TRC Collection

Early 19th century embroidery. TRC Collection

We have just had a little 'wow' moment at the TRC. As so often happens here, someone has popped in with some potential donations for the collection. We love these moments as we are never sure what will appear. Well, this time it was a small embroidered box, with four embroidered ovals inside. One of the ovals had the word bruid ('bride') and another bruidegom ('bridegroom') embroidered on to them. It turns out they were used in a marriage in 1827! And then re-used for a wedding in 1903.

What exactly they were used for is not certain, but the size of the ovals does suggest that they might have been used for wedding rings. The embroidery is worked in floss silk and silk chemille thread, with applied, 3-dimensional flowers in very fine silk; all stitched onto a satin silk ground. The box lid is also decorated in the same manner, although sadly it is now in a much poorer condition. What memories and stories are stored in these pieces!

Gillian Vogelsang, 11 November 2014



European Art Quilt VIII Exhibition, Enschede

This weekend Mariet Portheine and I went to see the European Art Quilt VIII exhibition at the Twentsewelle Museum, Enschede, and especially to admire the display of appliqué panels made by various craftsmen from the Street of the Tentmakers, Cairo. The colours and techniques of these Egyptian panels are very seductive, and I said I would not buy anymore but….. There were a few more designs that fit into the TRC’s ‘Street’ exhibition that opens on 4th January (2015) and they will look amazing. The European Art Quilt exhibition was thought provoking, as again it raised the question as to where is the line between a quilt (two or more layers of cloth sewn together, traditionally used for clothing and bed covers, etc) and textile art? Most of the pieces on display were definitely leaning towards Art rather than Quilt. There were some (quilt) pieces that personally I found really attractive, such as one depicting the night sky and another entitled 'snowflakes on a bed'. Many of the items, however, have travelled very far from the concept of quilt. Worth while seeing because it was so thought provoking. The quilt exhibition opened on the 27th September and will run until the 4th January 2015, when the TRC will open its 'own' exhibition of Egyptian panels. For more information, please click here.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 29 October 2014


Back in Cairo

Cairo can be a dangerous place, and I am not just talking about the cars, pavements and pollution! I am in Cairo for a few days to attend various meetings (more about that later), but I could not miss the chance yesterday for a 'quick' visit to the Street of the Tentmakers and to see more of the beautiful appliqué panels they make there. Everytime I go there I think now we have enough for the special exhibition that opens at the TRC in January about the Cairo appliqués, and then someone says, we have a new design..... Fatal.

Gillian at al-Farouk in the Street of the Tentmakers, Cairo.

Gillian at al-Farouk in the Street of the Tentmakers, Cairo.

I was there to pick up a few panels that had been previously ordered and, all being well, I shall be going back to Cairo in December (for another meeting, but in Aswan, life can be so hard sometimes). Then I shall be doing the big shop for thimbles, scissors, thread, cloth and more panels of various sizes. Many of these will be for sale in the TRC shop during the period of the exhibition. The Street needs help as there are less and less tourists going to Egypt, but this is one way we can help them, while being inspired to greater and more colourful things at home!

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 3 October 2014


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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: 12 - 15 August 2019: Out of Asia: 2000 years of textiles

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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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