TRC Blog: Textile Moments

Arpilleras from Chile

Example of an arpillera

Example of an arpillera

A workshop on arpilleras was offered recently during a festival on adult education, in Lelystad (the Netherlands). The festival also featured an exhibition of approximately 25 arpilleras, from Chile, Colombia, England, Northern Ireland, Peru and Zimbabwe. Workshop leader Roberta Bacic explained that arpilleras are a South American folk art, which uses colourful appliqués, patchwork and embroidery to depict scenes of everyday life. Small, three-dimensional cloth dolls are a common feature.

Arpilleras are not intended for practical use: the borders are blanket stitched or edged with crochet or a colourful fabric, so that the pictures can be hung on walls. The word arpillera comes from an old Spanish word for burlap, as most of these cloth pictures were originally sewn on a background cloth of burlap or flour sacking. The most famous arpilleras and arpilleristas (the women who make them) are from Chile. “Arpilleras are really an art of poverty,” Roberta explained. “They were originally made from scraps and pieces of used clothing. They were made by poor women working in groups. The conversations the women had while sewing together helped create a sense of sharing and of solidarity.” That solidarity was essential for survival.

In the 1960s there was a cottage industry in Chile of arpilleras depicting happy domestic scenes. These were made from colourful woolen yarns. The military coup of 1973 changed this. Unemployment grew, wool became scarce, and opponents of the Pinochet military dictatorship (1973-1990) began to disappear or be detained. Families of the disappeared (‘desaparecidos’) were banned from many jobs and refused hospital services. Poor women in and around Santiago began making arpilleras in an income-generating project organized by the Roman Catholic Church’s Vicaría de la Solidaridad. Church workers donated clothes as fabric for the appliqués, paid for the finished arpilleras and organized their sale. Many of the women were members of the group Agrupación de los Familiares de los Detenidos Desaparecidos (AFDD), an association for families of people illegally detained and made to disappear by the regime. The women gathered once a week at different workshops and chose a theme to embroider, which they began at the workshop and finished at home. There were rules: torture scenes could not be depicted; the Andes mountains were usually stitched in the background as a symbol of Chile; only one arpillera a week per woman was accepted. If a woman needed more money, she was allowed to make two arpilleras per week. Work was unsigned in order to protect the maker's identity

Over 250 women became involved in the project. The women talked in the workshops about the trauma of missing husbands, sons and daughters as they embroidered the stories of their lives: communal kitchens to feed the hungry; demonstrations in front of police stations or government buildings where women held photographs of their loved ones and demanded information as to where they were; police raids on homes; a family sitting around a table, with an empty chair. The Church smuggled thousands of arpilleras out of Chile for sale elsewhere. The textiles helped raise awareness of the human rights abuses taking place inside Chile. As criticism of Pinochet increased, the government made it illegal to own or publically show arpilleras.

Shelley Anderson, 28 September 2015

   

Nederlands Forensisch Instituut

Gepolariseerde foto van hempvezels.

Gepolariseerde foto van hempvezels.

TRC vrijwilligster en stagiaire, Deandra de Looff, was onlangs enkele dagen te gast bij het Nederlands Forensisch Instituut (NFI) in verband met haar onderzoeksstage. Onder begeleiding van een forensisch onderzoeker heeft zij kennisgemaakt met de verschillende methoden en technieken die worden gebruikt bij forensisch onderzoek. Het bezoek bestond onder andere uit het leren omgaan met een microscoop (met hoge vergroting) en het herkennen van verschillende vezels (synthetische, dierlijke en plantaardige) onder de microscoop. Hierbij wordt gebruik gemaakt van polarisatie om verschillende kenmerken van de vezels (zoals poriën en kristallen bij plantaardige vezels) beter zichtbaar te maken.

Bij polarisatiemicroscopie wordt gebruik gemaakt van twee polarisatiefilters. Als deze gekruist staan zal er geen licht worden doorgelaten, behalve door een optisch actief object, bijvoorbeeld een vezel. Zulke objecten lichten op. Hiermee kunnen vezels en andere monsters worden geïdentificeerd. Ook kan met de microscoop de fluorescentie van vezels worden bekeken.  Bij het NFI wordt ook gebruik gemaakt van een rasterelektronenmicroscoop (Scanning Electron Microscope: SEM) voor het maken van opnames van vezels. Met een rasterelektronenmicroscoop kan een heel hoge vergroting worden verkregen. Dat is handig voor bijvoorbeeld het meten van de doorsnede van vezels.

Het bezoek heeft zich voornamelijk gefocust op microscopie en het herkennen van verschillende vezels onder de microscoop. In de foto's enkele voorbeelden van wat er onder de microscoop wordt gezien.

26 september 2015

   

Chiné à la Branche versus Chiné à la Chaîne

Detail of a French Chiné á la chaîne, early 20th century. TRC collection

Detail of a French Chiné á la chaîne, early 20th century. TRC collection

The TRC has recently been given some textiles, which include a length of brown cotton cloth with white vertical stripes embellished with stylised (and fuzzy) flowers. The flowers were made in some form of, what appears to be an ikat technique, since the colours of the design were added to the warp/weft threads before the cloth was woven. Ikat textiles are usually associated with India and Indonesia, but this textile looks European. It has taken a little time to find out what the textile is and where it comes from. It turns out it is French and dates to the 1930s and 1940s. It was used for upholstery.

The question that doggedly followed this piece was how the design was made? It turns out there are two possibilities, Chiné à la branche or Chiné à la chaîne. The word Chiné refers to China, but while the technique used to make this piece is Asian in influence, it is certainly not Chinese. In addition, both terms seem to be used interchangeably in English, especially on the internet. So we thought that this new item to the TRC collection could be used to highlight the differences between these two forms.

  • Chiné à la branche is a technique for dyeing silk that became popular in the early 18th century. This form is closer to the Asian ikat, as it involves binding off areas of the warp thread and then (resist) dyeing it in various colours until the required design is achieved. In the 18th century, this type of cloth was particularly associated with the French court, as it was an expensive manner of decorating textiles. It was even known as Pompadour silk or Pompadour taffeta, after the mistress of King Louis XV of France, Madame de Pompadour (1721-1764).
  • The second method, Chiné à la chaîne, was developed in the mid-19th century and involved hand painting the required design onto the warp threads (of any fibre) and then weaving the cloth. It was not long, however, before the hand painted designs were replaced with screen, and later, roller printing techniques of dyeing the threads.

Sadly, the TRC collection does not include any examples of Chiné à la branche, but we now have an example of Chiné à la chaîne!

Sources: “Printing of Silk Warps for the Manufacture of Chiné Silk”. Posselt’s Textile Journal. December 1907.

Available at:

Gillian Vogelsang, 22 September 2015

   

Bogd Khaan Palace Museum, Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia

Petal crown of Bogd Khaan, with gold, silver, pearl, Indian gyasar gold-thread brocade, velvet, early 20th century, Bogd Khaan Palace Museum, Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia.

Petal crown of Bogd Khaan, with gold, silver, pearl, Indian gyasar gold-thread brocade, velvet, early 20th century, Bogd Khaan Palace Museum, Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia.

Well, while Karakorum did not provide much in the field of textiles and dress (see below), a visit to the Bogd Khaan Palace Museum in the Mongolian capital, this morning, was really amazing. The complex, which dates to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, includes a summer and winter palace. While the Summer Palace (being a complex of buildings erected in traditional style) contains mainly religious objects, including appliqués and paintings, the Winter Palace (built in European/Russian style) houses a wealth of other objects, including a large number of gorgeous, and above all very intriguing garments, and not to mention Bogd Khan's personal collection of stuffed animals and some of his coaches (made in England, thank you). The Winter Palace is one of these buildings, rather like Huis Doorn in The Netherlands, where Kaiser Wilhelm spent the last twenty years of his life, or his former palace in Potsdam, where you get the feeling that nothing has changed since the royal occupants left the premises (together with the servants and the maid, who quite surely also took the vacuum cleaner).

Bearing in mind the rumours that the royal occupant of the Winter Palace led a rather debaucherous life (for good religious reasons, of course), this only adds to the atmosphere. The Winter Palace in Ulaan Baatar was occupied by Bogd Khaan until his death in 1924. He was the last of the secular/religious leaders of Mongolia (I will spare you the details). He was actually born in Tibet, and at the young age of four or five taken to Mongolia. Some of the clothes he was wearing when he was taken on this long journey can acually be seen in the museum, together with many of his toys. Most fascinating however are the ceremonious robes and other garments (including hats, boots, jackets etc.) that he wore on various occasions. The museum also contains many of the garments worn by his wife, the Queen Dondogdulam. Much of the original furniture is also there, including a chair on which the Queen used to sit. There is actually a photograph showing the Queen on that chair. Furthermore, rather amusing, two real musical chairs for the royal couple (they actually produced music when people sat down on them), a gift from the Russian tsar.

Willem Vogelsang, 20 September 2015

   

Quick trip to Karakorum, Mongolia

Kharkhorin / Karakorum, with the walls of the Erdene Zuu monastic complex. Photograph: Willem Vogelsang

Kharkhorin / Karakorum, with the walls of the Erdene Zuu monastic complex. Photograph: Willem Vogelsang

I am just back from a brief trip to Kharkhorin, or Karakorum as most people outside of Mongolia tend to know this place. It is the old capital of the Mongol Empire, founded sometime in the early thirteenth century, and destroyed, with great enthusiasm, by the Chinese in the late fourteenth. Just about nothing remains of the place, although recent excavations are bringing to light some intriguing finds. The whole area is now dominated by the huge Erdene Zuu complex, a Buddhist monastic settlement of the sixteenth century surrounded by a white-washed wall. Unfortunately, only a few buildings within the walls of the monastery remain; all the other constructions having been destroyed during the communist purges of the late 1930's (which also killed allegedly some 90000 Mongolian Buddhist monks and nuns). What is really interesting at the site is the new museum that has been built, just outside the former confines of the old city of Karakorum. Funded, and apparently built, designed, and more or less parachuted by the Japanese, it shows a wealth of material and information on the history of the Orkhon valley, of which the former city of Karakorum was only one in a series of ancient capitals. It also shows a model of how Karakorum may have looked like, together with its Buddhist temples, Christian churches and Islamic mosques.

Textile-wise I was especially intrigued by (admittedly, reproductions of) wall paintings that were recently discovered in a nearby tomb dating to the late first millennium AD and showing men wearing the beautiful flowing robes that we often tend to associate with the other Central Asian civilisations, as for instance those of the Sogdians.

A word of warning: it takes, by car, some six to eight hours to drive from Ulaan Baatar to Kharkhorin. But if you want to walk around at a historic place, where Marco Polo may (I stress the ' may') have wandered around, and where around AD 1250 the Franciscan monk William of Rubruck met a woman from Metz in France who had been captured in Hungary, and if you enjoy watching the wide landscape of the Mongolian pastures, it is certainly worth visiting. You can stay overnight in one of the camp sites that seem to have sprung up everywhere in Mongolia, and enjoy a night's sleep in a kher (or yurt). Don't be alarmed when in the early morning an old man or woman stumbles in to light the fire. 

Willem Vogelsang, 20 September 2015

   

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