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Monument in Leiden along the Vliet, marking embarkation point of the Pilgrim Fathers leaving Leiden for Plymouth, and hence to America, in 1620.Monument in Leiden along the Vliet, marking embarkation point of the Pilgrim Fathers leaving Leiden for Plymouth, and hence to America, in 1620.I have lived on and off in Leiden for more than forty years, and regularly take groups of foreign friends and colleagues through this beautiful town. Perhaps it helps that my office is right in the centre of town, along the magnificent Rapenburg canal. When doing so, I always tell people about the (English) Pilgrim Fathers who in the early seventeenth century fled to Leiden and lived here for some time before boarding the Mayflower and sailing to America. I show them the places where they lived, and died. I also show them the various plaques in Leiden dedicated by American descendants to commemorate the stay of their ancestors (real or imaginary) in my town.

Two weeks ago I walked with one of my colleagues along the canals. I noticed a new monument, marking the spot where in 1620 some 102 Pilgrim Fathers boarded a boat to take them to the nearby North Sea, and ultimately to America. The monument also bears the names of the families that were involved. I spotted one name in particular: Standish. I had been looking for references to that man for some time. I knew he was one of the Englishmen who stayed in Leiden and left for America. He was called Myles Standish, and he eventually became the military commander of the new colony, a function he held until his death in 1656. He is, you will be thrilled to know, the main character, although highly romanticised, of Longfellow's narrative poem, The Courtship of Myles Standish (1858).

But what has this to do with textiles? Myles Standish was the father of Loara Standish, who was born in America and died before 1655. Around 1640 she made a sampler which has become the oldest extant example in the USA (for more information, click here). It is now kept in the Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Massachusetts. It is embroidered on fine linen (c. twenty threads per cm) using blue, green, pink and red silk thread. It is 60 x 18.5 cm in size. The sampler is decorated with bands of stylised flowers (roses and carnations), acorns and intertwined ‘s’ designs. Stitched at the
bottom is:

"Loara Standish is my name Lorde guide my hart that I may doe thy will also My hands with such Convenient skill as may Conduce to virtue void of Shame and I will give The glory to thy name."

Loara Standish is believed to have died young, but exactly when is unknown. She lies buried, as far as can be ascertained, in the Myles Standish Burial Ground, Duxbury, Massachusetts, USA. The sampler was kept in her brother Josiah’s family until it was donated to the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1844.

Willem Vogelsang, 28 October 2015

Part of a sheet with embroidered designs waiting to be cut out for the WW I postcards. The war ended in November 1918, before these designs (dated 1919) could be used. TRC collectionPart of a sheet with embroidered designs waiting to be cut out for the WW I postcards. The war ended in November 1918, before these designs (dated 1919) could be used. TRC collectionSince a child, and after listening to my grandfather who actually fought at Ypres ('Wipers,' as my granpa called the place), I have been fascinated by a particular type of silk embroidered postcard that British troops in Wold War I used to sent home from France to their loved ones. Because of the TRC having a series of mini-exhibitions in its workshop it was decided to create a small exhibition about these cards to coincide with the anniversary of the ending of the War on the 11th November. And just last week, the TRC received three panels with series of embroidered designs intended to be used for these postcards. I would like to thank Dr. Ian Collins from St. Albans, England, for his help in acquiring these fascinating items.

This type of card is decorated with a wide variety of designs and messages worked in floss silk in various bright colours. The decoration is worked in small, silk gauze panels with colourful, free style embroidery. These embroidered panels were stuck to a card frame that was embossed with a decorative edging. These cards were a popular form of communication from the early 1900s until the 1950s. They were especially favoured during and just after the First World War. During the war, the range of designs worked was very varied and included obviously military subjects, such as the flags of the allies (notably Belgium, Britain, France, Italy, and the USA), names of regiments, figures of famous generals, and more popular subjects such as Christmas, birthday and New Year best wishes. In addition, many cards included butterflies and flowers, as gentler, more sympathetic images. It has been estimated that up to ten million embroidered cards of this type were produced during this period, mainly in France. Comparable cards were made in Germany, but with different designs!

In the past, various questions have been raised about these cards, especially as to how the cards were decorated, and by whom. There are several possible answers. It has been suggested that the images were hand embroidered by Belgian and French women who had been afflicted by the war. But would they have really been able to hand embroider millions of cards ? Another explanation, and far more likely, is that they were machine made, but this brings us to the question, which type of machine was used? The vast majority of these embroidered postcards were made using what appear to be hand stitches of various kinds, including the back stitch, basket weave stitch, individual cross stitches, herringbone stitch, reverse herringbone stitch (to create a shadow work effect), double running stitch (Holbein stitch), satin stitch, stem stitch, as well as various composite stitches.

A machine that could imitate the appearance of these hand stitches is the hand-embroidery machine that was invented in 1829 by Josué Heilmann in Mulhouse, France. It was developed over the following decades by various engineers and companies in Britain, France, Germany and Switzerland. Basically, this hand-embroidery machine used a pantograph system to transfer the stitches. Each stitch is drawn out on a large scale design and then its position traced by an operator using a point on one arm of the pantograph. A series of needles responds to the movement of the pantograph arm. Each needle has an eye in the middle for the thread, and two sharp ends. The needle is passed backwards and forwards through the ground cloth using a pincer system, so imitating the action and appearance of hand embroidery. Each colour in the design is individually worked (so all the blue parts, for example, are worked, and then the machine is re-threaded with a new colour), until the design is complete. This machine, in various sizes, was used in both domestic and factory settings.

There were both home and factory versions of this machine. Based on surviving examples, it would appear that wide strips (domestic) and very broad sheets (factory) of organza cloth were embroidered. Using hand-embroidery machines it was possible to produce hundreds of images on a sheet in one go. Once embroidered, the strips/sheets were cut up and the individual images were stuck into an embossed card frame. They were then sold to the public, especially the soldiers, at a very high price. The companies making and selling these cards could well have made a considerable profit. Perhaps this is the real reason behind the stories of poor refugee women working all hours to hand embroider these cards in order to feed their desperate families.…... Wouldn't you be more willing to buy such cards thinking you were helping the needy as well?

Source: COLLINS, Ian (2001). An Illustrated History of the Embroidered Silk Postcard, Radlett: Gabrian Antiques.

Digital source, click here

Videos showing early hand-embroidery machines in use:

Gillian Vogelsang, 18 October 2015

PS: On 21 December 2015 we added a PDF catalogue of the postcards that are held in the TRC collection to our website. Click here to download it.

Example of an arpilleraExample of an arpilleraA 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

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

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

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

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

Kangas are large cotton cloths that are worn by women living along the whole of the East African coast, especially in Kenya, Tanzania and on the island of Zanzibar. Two women from Zanzibar wearing a kanga. The woman to the right has a kanga with the text "Alaa kumbe", which means something like 'Good gracious me!'. Photograph by Kate Kingsford.Two women from Zanzibar wearing a kanga. The woman to the right has a kanga with the text "Alaa kumbe", which means something like 'Good gracious me!'. Photograph by Kate Kingsford.Their characteristic feature is a short text printed on the cloth. The texts are often funny. They reveal some ' home truths', or they may tell something about the wearer's political opinion, etc. The TRC collection contains many examples of these garments, and in late 2009 / early 2010 the TRC mounted an exhibition on the subject. Below is a blog written by Kate Kingsford, now from Leiden, who is particularly fascinated by kangas and over the years has made a large collection of these marvellous garments:

"Shopping for kangas in Tanzania is always a very social activity. As I searched through the piles of kangas at the market in Moshi, Tanzania, the shopkeeper made tea and helped me decipher the layers of meaning in the messages. My favourite: “Mimi ni pweza mambo yangu hayatoweza”. Literally, this means, “I am an octopus, you can’t mess with my affairs”. Several local women passing the shop were happy to explain why they might wear it - as a warning to another woman who was flirting with your husband, or a way of telling a neighbour to stop spreading dangerous gossip, or perhaps to tell your mother-in-law not to interfere with your family.

Kangas are a way of saying the unsayable, and always open to interpretation. But the Tanzanian elections are only a month away, and political kangas are much less subtle. Fatuma, the shopkeeper, was happy to sell me a dress in the bright red and blue of Chadema, the opposition, but was adamant that I wouldn’t find anything in the colours of CCM, the ruling party for the past fifty years. A little further into the market, however, I came across one small shop decked out in green and yellow, offering discount prices on CCM kangas. A lot of people have bought CCM kangas and Chadema dresses, apparently, but no one is wearing them in the streets; while there is still a chance that the elections will be violent, it’s better to wait to see who wins before flaunting political affiliations. “Keep it for after the election!” warned another woman at the market. Walking home, I followed her advice and wore the octopus kanga with pride.

Kate Kingsford, 20 September 2015

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TRC in a nutshell

Hogewoerd 164
2311 HW Leiden.
Tel. +31 (0)71 5134144 /
+31 (0)6 28830428  
info@trc-leiden.nl

Open on Mondays - Thursdays
from 10.00 - 16.00.

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

Entrance is free, but donations are always welcome!

TRC Gallery exhibition:
5 Febr. -25 June 2020: American Quilts

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Donations

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: