TRC Blog: Textile Moments

Men in burqa

We are so used to seeing Afghan women being clad in the all-enveloping burqas, or chadaris, that the garment has almost become an icon of Afghan society. Now I just came across a news report from Kabul about some young Afghan men donning the burqa. I quote a message from, by Tariq Majidi, published yesterday, 5 March: 

For the first time, more than 10 male civil society activists took to the streets of Kabul City on Thursday wearing burqas in protest of violence against women. The men sporting burqas began their protest in Pul-e-Surkh area of Kabul ending their march near the Independent Human Rights Commission (IHRC), walking over 200 meters protesting against the harassment and violence the women of the country face on a daily a basis. "I walked the streets today in a burqa to understand how my sisters and mothers face violence from men on a daily basis," a protestor said. "I wanted to understand the situation." Several spectators ridiculed the men protesting, while others supported the movement. "I was sitting inside a restaurant eating breakfast when I saw the men marching down the streets in their burqas," Maisam, Kabul resident, said. "I lost it and couldn't stop laughing. Men should not being doing this." Fifty year old Haji Haider, a resident of Kabul, said this move made by the men spoke volumes. "This is the first that I'm witnessing such a protest," Haider said. "This is a very good move. It's a step forward in favor of the women." The men have filed complaints and cases to the IHRC and the government to resolve the increasing harassment and violence against women. This comes after a female wore an iron clad vest illustrating the curves of the female body on the streets of Kabul in protest of sexual harassment of females.

Willem Vogelsang, 6 March 2015


Madeleine Vionnet

Commemorative tile in Paris, dedicated to Madeleine Vionnet.

Commemorative tile in Paris, dedicated to Madeleine Vionnet.

TRC volunteer Shelley Anderson had another Textile Moment in Paris: “Avenue Montaigne is great for window shopping. It’s home to fashion houses like Gucci, Chanel, Prada, Dior and Vuitton, all competing to create eye-catching window displays. Thanks to TRC workshops and courses, I could work out how some of the outrageously priced clothing was constructed. But what was really thrilling was glancing down at the sidewalk in front of one shop and seeing a commemorative tile dedicated to fashion designer Madeleine Vionnet (1876-1975). Vionnet, who started out as a seamstress when she was 12 years old, revolutionized women’s fashion. She threw out frills and corsets, cut cloth on the bias for more freedom of movement, and used new fabrics like satin and gabardine. She gave her workers paid holiday and maternity leave, and had a day care centre on the premises—and a doctor and dentist. Her shop on Avenue Montaigne was nicknamed the “Temple of Fashion”.

21 February 2015


Het Huis van Hilde in Castricum, The Netherlands

Hillegonda, a mannequin dressed in 14th century clothing, Huis van Hilde, Castricum

Hillegonda, a mannequin dressed in 14th century clothing, Huis van Hilde, Castricum

TRC volunteer Shelley Anderson had a recent Textile Moment in the north of the Netherlands: “Het Huis van Hilde" (House of Hilde) is a new museum in Castricum, just south of Alkmaar, devoted to the area’s archaeology. It’s a state of the art depot which houses almost a million artifacts, of which a thousand are on display. What impressed me the most were the 14 life-sized models and the clothing they wore: Hilde, based on a 4th century CE skeleton, wore an ankle length woolen dress and large plaid shawl, and a necklace with beads of glass paste and gold foil. The Bronze Age girl wore a plaid skirt and plain blouse, carried a spindle, and had a bag (perhaps sprang) over her shoulder full of wool. The 14th century Hillegonda wore a beautiful blue cloak and long red dress, with a tablet woven decorative belt. See for more information.”

21 February 2015

Hilde, mannequin dressed in 4th century CE clothing, Huis van Hilde, Castricum

Hilde, mannequin dressed in 4th century CE clothing, Huis van Hilde, Castricum


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


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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

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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.
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