TRC Blog: Textile Moments

Robert J. Charleston letters

TRC volunteer, Alice Jaspars, studying the Robert Charleston correspondence housed in the TRC library (February 2019).

TRC volunteer, Alice Jaspars, studying the Robert Charleston correspondence housed in the TRC library (February 2019).

On Sunday, 24 February 2019, Alice Jaspars wrote:

Robert J. Charleston (1916-1994) was one of the leading experts on glass in the United Kingdom and was Keeper of Glass and Ceramics at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The current archive of Charleston’s letters stored at the TRC Leiden details his lesser known passion for textiles, with correspondence both to and from him. His letters detail an interest in pursuing a PhD in the subject of the archaeology of textiles, though unfortunately this never came to fruition. 

I have transcribed some thirty letters of Charleston now, most pertaining to his desire to publish a particular article during the Second World War, but facing issues due to paper rationing. The style and content of his letters make the transcription far more of pleasure than a task.

Thanks to the TRC’s director, Dr Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, we are now privileged to have this extensive correspondence between Charleston and other prominent figures, from the early 1940s onwards.

The archive is exceptional as we have both the letters written to, and the letters from Charleston, in almost perfect and precise chronological order. Having transcribed only a fraction of his letters thus far, it is clear that Charleston exhibits a tremendous intellect, ranging from assorted types of fabric, to the way in which he interacts with various well-known academics of textiles of the day.

Whilst I have only been able to transcribe a portion of the letters to date, I hope to use them as a basis for considering the ways in which relevant individuals from the time interacted with one another, and the way in which the knowledge of the time was developed into more personal correspondence such as these.

I will keep the blog up to date with any work of particular interest or of note.

   

A remarkable woman

 British postage stamp with embroidery motif of oranges and orange blossom, designed and worked by May Morris (TRC 2018.3365).

British postage stamp with embroidery motif of oranges and orange blossom, designed and worked by May Morris (TRC 2018.3365).

Shelley Anderson writes on Saturday 23 February 2019:

A recent acquisition of the TRC sent me scurrying to the Internet to find out more. The object was a small (3.5 x 3.5 cm) British postal stamp with an image of a beautifully embroidered orange branch with flowers and fruit (TRC 2018.3365). The stamp also has the text “Mary 'May' Morris 1862-1938. Designer and textile artist". May Morris had designed and executed the image, from silks on a linen background, in the 1880s.

Mary ‘May’ Morris was the youngest daughter of Arts and Crafts movement leader and designer William Morris. She had an unconventional childhood and was taught embroidery by her mother and her aunt. She also studied embroidery at art school and at the age of 23 became the Director of the Embroidery Department at her father's business. She was an able manager and designer, in addition to her own considerable skills in needlework, creating both ecclesiastical and household objects.

She researched older styles of embroidery, in particular the famous medieval needlework of England (Opus Anglicanum), in order to develop a more free-style fine technique which came to be known as art needlework. Later in life she taught embroidery at art schools throughout England, including the Royal School of Art Needlework (now the Royal School of Needlework), mentoring many other women who later established their own names in embroidery. In 1907, when guilds such as the Art Workers Guild refused to accept women, she founded a new association, the Women’s Guild of Arts.

As if this were not enough, she also made a name for herself as a designer, creating designs for jewellery, wall paper, textiles and more. Concerned about the status of women and workers, she was an active socialist all her life. In her later years she collected and published 24 volumes of her father’s works, thus securing his name in history, in addition to writing her own books and plays. She lived the last few decades of her life with a woman companion in a home designed in the Arts and Crafts style. “I’m a remarkable woman,” she wrote in 1936 to her ex-lover, playwright George Bernard Shaw, “always was, though none of you seemed to think so.” A remarkable woman indeed, who is finally getting the credit she deserves.

   

Two Chinese dolls

Chinese male doll, 1920s or 1930s (TRC 2019.0194).

Chinese male doll, 1920s or 1930s (TRC 2019.0194).

Saturday, 9 February 2019. TRC volunteer Francesco Montuori writes:

Last week, the Textile Research Centre enriched its collection with two interesting pieces: a couple of wooden Chinese dolls.

Normally the TRC does not take dolls but there was something about them that was intriguing. They came with the information that they dated to about 1900 and were intended to be used for funeral purposes.

One of the dolls is male (TRC 2019.0194) and dressed in Chinese style garments, including an embroidered gown in violet silk decorated with an embroiderd vase of flowers and a typical black silk cap (see for example TRC 2004.0087) on his head.

The second doll is female (TRC 2019.0195) and also has an embroidered gown in tangerine orange silk and decorated with flowers and butterflies. She is also wearing a large collar edged with fur. Her face covered in white make-up and she has prominent red lips. Her headdress is quite elaborate.

Chinese female doll, 1920s or 1930s (TRC 2019.0195).

Chinese female doll, 1920s or 1930s (TRC 2019.0195).

This type of doll is usually known in the Western world as a ‘Chinese Opera Doll’, although it would seem that they were not related with opera theatre at all. Instead it would appear that such dolls were associated with the many orphanages opened by various Christian missions in China. In fact, in the 18th and 19th centuries, numerous missionary associations from Northern America and Europe were active in the country to promulgate Christianity.

Among their initiatives was the establishment of many orphanages, in order to host abandoned or orphaned children in major cities of the country, such as Shanghai. The dolls were given to girls in the orphanages who crafted their dresses and embroidered them, in order to raise money for the maintenance of the orphanage itself.

Unfortunately, due to the lack of information about these two dolls, it is difficult to allocate them to a specific city or missionary activity. What is clear is that more research needs to be carried out to understand the economic and social history of this ‘small’ aspect of Chinese material culture.

   

Scandinavian doll?

Doll in regional dress, probably mid-19th century, from Scandinavia? (TRC 2019.0196).

Doll in regional dress, probably mid-19th century, from Scandinavia? (TRC 2019.0196).

Friday 8th February, Gillian Vogelsang writes:

Often the TRC is asked if we know what this is or where does that come from, and many times we can help out. We now have a little puzzle for you!

We have recently been given a doll dressed in regional dress. The head and hands are made out of carved wood that has been hand painted, while the body, arms and legs are made out of stuffed cloth. The headdress is elaborately made with various different types of cloth.

The front and back of her dress are embroidered, and she has a large bag with a crucifix hanging from her left waist. Under her dress there is a petticoat and drawers made out of white cotton decorated with bobbin lace. Her shoes are in the style of 18th century slippers with metal buckles.

We think that the doll may date from c. 1860, based on the textiles, and that it may possibly come from Scandinavia. Does anyone know where she comes from? Any suggestions are welcome.

   

Strong women in fashion

Mantua, ca. 1760-1765, silk and linen, on display at the exhibition Femmes Fatales, at the Gemeente Museum in The Hague, the Netherlands.

Mantua, ca. 1760-1765, silk and linen, on display at the exhibition Femmes Fatales, at the Gemeente Museum in The Hague, the Netherlands.

Saturday, 2nd February 2019, Shelley Anderson writes:

Femmes Fatales is an exhibition now on at the Gemeente Museum in the Hague (NL). It’s an exhibition with a difference, billed as the first exhibit in fashion history that concentrates on female fashion designers. It is a real must-see for anyone with an interest in fashion and in fashion history.

On display are clothes and sketches, all with excellent background information, from over twenty designers, including Coco Chanel, Jeanne Lanvin, Elsa Schiaparelli, Mary Quant, Vivienne Westwood, Rei Kawakubo and many others. Nor are Dutch women ignored: clothes designed by Fong Leng, Sheila de Vries and Iris van Herpen are prominently displayed.

The clothes date from 1750 to 2018, opening with over a dozen eighteenth century French dresses (mostly women’s silk gowns, occasionally mixed with cotton and/or linen). At this time in France male tailors belonged to prestigious (and better paid) guilds. Women seamstresses were restricted in both the materials they could work with and the type of clothes they could make. Seamstresses were forbidden to work with silk, and could only make upper garments for women and children’s clothes - but, in the case of boys, only if the boy was under eight years old.

This began to change in 1675 when wool seamstresses in Paris organised a women-only guild. (Interestingly, wool seamstresses in Amsterdam organised their own guild in 1579, but still had to pay dues to the tailors’ guild). As fashions changed, there were fights, sometimes physical, over whether men or women would be allowed to make the new designs.

I found the exhibition of clothes from the 1910s-1920s thrilling. This is when women created some of the great fashion houses of Paris. To see the actual work of pioneers like the Callot Soeurs, Chanel and Madeleine Vionnet, was exciting. These clothes were as innovative then as van Herpen’s 3D printed and laser cut dresses, or Kawakubo’s bizarre mathematical creations are today.

The exhibition is a powerful statement of women’s creativity. “Femmes Fatales: Strong women in Fashion” is on until 24 March 2019.

   

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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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