TRC Blog: Textile Moments

Opening of the Central Asia exhibition, and much more

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Opening of the TRC exhibition "Dressing the 'Stans', 12th September 2017, by Prof. Peter Frankopan.

Opening of the TRC exhibition "Dressing the 'Stans', 12th September 2017, by Prof. Peter Frankopan.

This last week has been extremely busy thanks to a wide range of activities taking place at the TRC Leiden. Monday was spent putting the last touches to our new exhibition called Dressing the ‘Stans’: Textiles, clothing and jewellery from Central Asia. This exhibition was created as part of the Asia Year celebrations in Leiden that culminated in the opening of the Leiden University’s new Asia Library by H.R.H. Queen Maxima of the Netherlands.

The TRC exhibition (which was not opened by the Queen), was in fact opened on Tuesday by Prof. Peter Frankopan, Oxford University and author of the now famous book The Silk Roads (2015). Prof. Frankopan gave a short, but very much to the point, talk about the important role of textiles, especially silk, in linking cultures and groups together over the centuries. The exhibition will be on display until mid-December, so you will have ample chance to see it. In addition, in a few weeks’ time a digital version of the exhibition will appear on the TRC digital exhibition list (which is getting longer and longer with a range of very different exhibitions!).

Dressing the 'Stans' exhibition, from 12th September until 22 December 2017.

Dressing the 'Stans' exhibition, from 12th September until 22 December 2017.

Anyway back to Tuesday, the opening was followed by a light buffet, which gave everyone the chance to talk with Prof. Frankopan and to see the exhibition. Various guests promised items from home for the TRC Collection. Speaking of which, we were offered some Dutch regional dress items from one family from Nieuwland (Nieuw- en Sint Joosland) in the south of the Netherlands. Thanks to the generosity of one of the ‘Friends of the TRC’ who was at the opening, these items will be coming to the TRC next week and will enhance our growing Dutch regional dress collection.

Wednesday was spent with visitors to the exhibition, sorting out administration and getting my lecture ready for the following day. Thursday was spent meeting people at the Pieterskerk Leiden, following the opening of the Asia Library by Her Majesty. I was also able to talk with more people about the TRC (including the new British Ambassador to The Netherlands). Networking and getting the message about the TRC known to a wide range of people is important! And yes, we were offered as a donation some more textiles by an elderly lady whose father and mother collected embroideries and other items from Asia.

In the afternoon I gave a lecture as part of the Opening celebrations. To my surprise, it was a full house and people were standing (well one person was, but as it was Peter Frankopan, I am not complaining!). It was fun to talk about the exhibition and what we are doing to such an interested group.

Friday was spent tidying up, photographing and cataloguing some items from Turkey related to the Syriac Orthodox Church, as well as Afghan garments and textiles kindly given by May and Rolando Schinasi from Nice in France (all these are now online, see our catalogue). We also sorted out and sent off a grant proposal to the Prins Bernhard Cultuur Fonds. This proposal is all part of a really exciting project that the TRC recently got involved in – if you are a knitting fanatic and interested in a challenge, please keep an eye on the TRC website! I can say no more at the moment, but it's BIG.

And now to find twice as much space and four times the amount of money to house, present and enjoy everything! But before all of that happens, a cup of tea and a biscuit are required.

Gillian Vogelsang, Saturday 16th September 2017


Koperasi Jasa Menenun Mandiri and the TRC

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Participants to the ikat workshop having lessons on how to weave on a body-tension loom.

Participants to the ikat workshop having lessons on how to weave on a body-tension loom.

For the last fortnight (12th – 24th August 2017), the TRC has been host to two weavers, Mapung Salomina and Emiliana, and Mrs. Musrikah Siti. Mrs. Siti is a museum curator and representative of the Koperasi Jasa Menenun Mandiri, a weaving co-operation with well over 1200 members, of which c. 300 weave on a daily basis. All are from from Sintang, Kalimantan (Borneo) in Indonesia. Their visit was facilitated by Esmeralda and Theo Zee, both of whom with strong connections with Indonesia.

A series of ten workshops and lectures were presented to over seventy participants. These meetings helped people to understand the process of ikat production, from the preparation of the cotton threads (using a spindle wheel), to the binding of the warps for ikat making, the dyeing of the threads and the weaving of the end product. In addition, there were extra workshops on various basic basketry and beading techniques.

The weavers, Mapung Salomina and Emiliana, set up two ikat looms in the TRC Gallery and this number was increased to four for the weaving workshops. This meant that each of the participants had at least thirty minutes working on the loom, learning and understanding the basic movements and techniques required. Every movement was watched and corrected by Mapung and Emiliana. It was hard work, especially for people who are not used to working with body-tensioned looms. But it certainly increased everyone’s appreciation of, and respect for what is involved in making an ikat textile in this manner.

The strict approach of the teachers was reflected in the binding lesson, when one (unfortunate) participant had spent a long time binding some warp threads only to have all bindings removed because they were not done in the ‘proper’ manner! A fact that was appreciated by the participants, as Mapung and Emiliana made it clear that the groups were there to learn new techniques and not to develop their own forms. The need for the participants to change how they thought about a design, how to describe it and more importantly how to communicate it from the brain to fingers was very apparent. People learnt a lot about themselves as well as about Sintang forms of working.

Lecture on the identification of Indonesian ikats, by Esmeralda Zee.

Lecture on the identification of Indonesian ikats, by Esmeralda Zee.

These workshops were very well attended and intensive – there was a lot to take in within a relatively short period (generally three hours), so the socialising and gossiping that is found in many Western sewing bees and quilting parties was not encouraged! Which is not to say that the TRC staple of tea/coffee and biscuits was absent. These were seriously needed.

The educational function of the TRC also came to the fore in two lectures that were given, one by Mrs. Esmeralda Zee, assisted by Mrs. Musrikah Siti, Mapung Salomina and Emiliana, and the second by myself, about non-Indonesian ikats, based on historical and modern examples in various museums, as well as in the TRC Collection. The use of deep fringes on the Ecuadorian ikats was especially noted. Mrs. Musrikah Siti is now going to develop a series of talks about non-Indonesian ikats to show how Indonesian forms fit within a global setting.

The weavers came with a variety of items for sale, some of which the TRC has purchased. In addition, we have acquired one of the looms used for the workshops – with the web, heddles and sticks all in place as well as ordering a series of small-scale frames that show step-by-step how a Sintang ikat is made. These will form the basis of a digital exhibition about ikats from around the world to be published in the near future.

The closing ceremony on Thursday afternoon (24th August 2017) was carried out by Prof. Bambang Hari Wibisono, the cultural attaché of the Indonesian Embassy in The Hague. His presence was greatly appreciated by all, as it confirms how important such cultural exchanges and events are, both in Indonesia and the Netherlands.

Gillian Vogelsang, 27th August.


A prehistoric puzzle

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One of the Cahokia Mounds, Illinois, USA.

One of the Cahokia Mounds, Illinois, USA.

The Cahokia Mounds State Historic site, in Illinois (USA), is an UNESCO World Heritage site. It is most famous for its almost 100 human-made earthen mounds and for its Woodhenge, a circle of evenly spaced red cedars aligned with the solstices and equinoxes. Cahokia’s centre is Monks Mound, the largest prehistoric earthen construction in the Americas, whose base covers almost fifteen acres (over five and a half hectares) and which stands one hundred feet (thirty meters) high.

Archaeologists don’t know who built Cahokia or why, but during its peak from 1050 to 1200 CE it supported a population of between ten and twenty thousand native Americans. It was a highly structured society, which cultivated maize and squash on an industrial scale. They must have also manufactured textiles on an industrial scale. Numerous ceramic spindle whorls (often made from pieces of broken pottery) have been excavated in Cahokia and from its surroundings.

Fragments of dyed fabric have been found in the nearby Spiro Mounds (Oklahoma), which was under Cahokia’s rule. The fabric had with geometric patterns in red, black and yellow. Carbonized textile remains (of both cordage and fabric) have also been discovered. In at least one case, impressions left in the soil of a burial pit left clues as to how mats were woven from reeds or rushes.

These traces, and the study of historic native American textile production, reveal that the people of Cahokia used techniques such as finger weaving, braiding and twining. Deer sinew was pounded and separated into fibres for sewing hides together. Needles and pins were made from deer bones. Fur from rabbits and dogs (and perhaps other fur-bearing mammals) was spun into thread for weaving or sewing clothing; human hair was also spun or braided in order to make bowstrings. The stems of plants such as milkweed and dogbane was processed and spun to produce a silky-like thread for weaving; likewise the inner bark of trees like basswood, black locust, and cedar was made into strips for clothing, cordage, baskets, floor mats and sleeping mats.

Garments were made from animal hides and from plant fibres. Depictions of clothing (e.g., on carvings and petroglyphs) show both men and women wearing fringed kilts, with geometric patterns and wide sashes. Textiles were also decorated with shell beads, as the spectacular excavation of Mound 72 has shown. Over 280 bodies were excavated in the 1960s. It appeared to be the burial tomb of an elite male, who was found lying on a two-inch-thick layer of twenty thousand marine shell beads. The beads are thought to have decorated a bird-shaped cape or blanket about six feet long, which had disintegrated.

The grave goods buried in Mound 72 included mica and beaten copper (both used for jewellery), over seven hundred arrow heads and another cache of 36000 shell beads. Many of these goods came from hundreds of kilometres away, which point to extensive trade contacts. Cahokia and its excellent Interpretive Center are well worth a visit, both for anyone interested in ancient civilizations in general, or the pre/history of native American people in particular.

Shelley Anderson, 8th August 2017


A textile day in Jaipur, India

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Modern example of gota and zardozi work from the City Palace, Jaipur. Acquired for the TRC collection on 1st August 2017.

Modern example of gota and zardozi work from the City Palace, Jaipur. Acquired for the TRC collection on 1st August 2017.

Today, Gillian and I visited Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, India. Since neither of us had ever been here, we were very curious this morning when our taxi driver and his brother, who have been with us for the last few days and have proven to be very patient and amused by our company and weird interests, drew up at the hotel and took us to the city centre. Our first port of call was the City Palace, where, we had been been told, there was a small display of garments worn by the past Maharajas of the city.

We were extremely surprised to discover that the palace grounds house a beautiful little textile museum with the most interesting garments, well displayed and with excellent text boards. They include some beautiful chogas, angharkhas and jamas, as well as a late-nineteenth century Chinese gown bought by the then Maharaja. The most prized item in the displayed collection is a pashmina (both warp and weft) floor covering dating to the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries.

Anyone paying a visit to Jaipur and being interested in textiles and garments used and worn by the Maharajas of Jaipur for the past few hundreds of years should certainly pay a visit. And not only the museum itself was a pleasant surprise, so was the museum shop with high quality merchandising, including textiles and garments made and embroidered in the palace workshop.

The afternoon we spent touring Jaipur and Jaipur bazaar, looking for textiles and textile materials. We ended up in a shop called Satguru’s, managed by Mr Aneesh Sharma, who not only showed us some of his interesting textiles, but also obviously loved talking about them and explaining techniques and giving us the local names. We bought several interesting Rajasthani embroideries, demonstrating various local techniques, including so-called Rajasthani phulkari (normally associated with the Panjab). We completed our tour in the bazaar itself, looking for materials for gota embroidery (characterised by pieces of metal thread ribbon cut or folded to shape). When with the help of many bystanders and some tea one of the bazaaris finally turned up with what we wanted, we decided that it was time to call it a day. A cappuccino in the City Palace was a well-earned reward. Tomorrow we will be heading back to Delhi.

Willem Vogelsang, 1st August 2017


Estonian folk costume

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If you ever find yourself near Tartu (Estonia), one place you should visit as a textile enthusiast, is the Estonian National Museum. Besides the wonderful exhibitions about Estonian culture and history, there is since the 22nd of June 2017 the exhibition “Regarded as a norm, perennially worn”. This exhibition consists of 150 sets of traditional folk costumes from all across Estonia. The costumes are from all the rural municipalities of the country and reflect the seasonal and geographical diversity of traditional dress.

Another exhibition that is of particular interest is the permanent exhibition “Echo of the Urals”. This exhibition gives insight into the culture of the Finno-Ugric peoples, who are indigenous to large parts of, among others, Scandinavia and Eurasia. The exhibition is a beautiful mix of costume, culture, daily life, rituals and traditional art of Finno-Ugric peoples. This mix gives a wonderful insight into the cultural landscape through the combination of these cultural elements combined with modern media, such as displays and music. One gets a taste of what it would feel like to be part of the various cultural worlds of Finno-Ugric societies.

When I visited the exhibition it felt like stepping into another world. Through the use of sound you feel like you are truly standing near an isolated cabin in the woods or in the middle of the village square during a festival surrounded by music.

For more information about the museum, see and its exhibitions and

Deandra de Looff, 1st August 2017.


Goldwork from Agra

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Modern piece of goldwork (zardozi) from Agra, India. Acquired for the TRC collection on 30th July 2017.

Modern piece of goldwork (zardozi) from Agra, India. Acquired for the TRC collection on 30th July 2017.

Today was spent in sight seeing and embroidery, a well-recommended combination in Agra, India. Agra used to be the capital of the Mughal kings (early 16th to mid-19th centuries) and not surprisingly Mughal period monuments abound. Willem and I went to the Taj Mahal at 07.00 and it was already getting busy. It lived up to expectations! It is an amazing complex and the Mughal inlay work is really beautiful. I now have a much better appreciation of Mughal textiles and designs in general. Then onto the Red Fort (where Willem was ecstatic seeing the so-called Gates of Somnath, which the British took from Mahmud of Ghazni's tomb in Afghanistan in 1842), followed by the exquisite mausoleum of Itimad ud-Daulah ("Baby Taj") and the tomb of the greatest of the Mughal emperors, Akbar, at nearby Sikandra. The latter is a bit disappointing, architecturally, especially after seeing his father's (Humayun's) tomb in Delhi.

After a break we then went looking for Agra embroidery. We had been told by some people that it did not exist and by others that it did. Well, it does and there are three styles associated with Agra, all of which come under the heading of zar-dozi ('precious work' or literally 'gold work') because of the use of metal threads. A characteristic feature of work from Agra is the use of precious and semi-precious gems that are sewn onto the silk and metal thread embroideries. These are in keeping with the Mughal embroidered hangings and carpets that are referred to in early written accounts. We saw one piece that literally glowed due to the silk, metal thread and gems. It only cost 50000 euros... it was very interesting talking with the embroiderers (male in public, with the bulk of the work being carried out at home by women). It would appear that there is a thriving embroidery scene in Agra!

Gillian Vogelsang, 30th July 2017


Lucknow chikan, and more

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Printing blocks for chikan embroidery designs, Lucknow, India (27th July 2017).

Printing blocks for chikan embroidery designs, Lucknow, India (27th July 2017).

Today (27 July 2017) has been spent wandering around the Indian city of Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh. We bought several items, including two veils worn by the groom (sic) at an Indian wedding (Hindu, Muslim and Sikh). These are called sehra and can be made from flowers,, beads, etc. They are hung from the groom’s turban during the early parts of the wedding ceremony. The bride may wear a net veil or sometimes a matching sehra. The examples we bought are for the Shia Muslim community and include the name of Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed.

More specifically, however, we have been learning about chikan thanks to the help of Dr Sugandha Shanker. We first went to the main museum in Lucknow (which is situated in the zoo) to see some nineteenth century examples of chikan (two types, the flat and the raised versions) and then onto the old bazaar and we talked with various craftsmen (especially the block printers) and sellers, as well as briefly discussed embroidery with some of the women who actually produce the work. Thursday is a quiet day in the bazaar and it opens up again in full force on a Friday, but we now have a shopping list for tomorrow of traditional forms, and modern examples of the latest developments, including black chikan. Can this actually be called chikan? Well, according to the people here, yes.

Detail of a pashmina shawl decorated with chikan embroidery, Lucknow, India (photograph 27th July 2017).

Detail of a pashmina shawl decorated with chikan embroidery, Lucknow, India (photograph 27th July 2017).

We also visited the most amazing designer chikan shop, called ADA, which is run by Mr Haider Ali Khan, a knowledgable and very courteous gentlement who clearly loves chikan. The shop has a wide variety of chikan forms, from traditional to modern. They are also working on sustainable forms of ground cloth, using protein fibres (milk, corn, bamboo, banana, as well as lotus – this one was a new one to me and is very soft). In addition, he very kindly brought out some of the rarest and most valuable examples in his shop, so we could appreciate their beauty. These included one form of chikan worked on a pashmina twill weave ground (extremely difficult to embroider with the chikan techniques) and a chikan sari that took about two years to make (for sale at a simple, one lakh of rupees or about 1400 euros). It is an amazing piece of work and I could just look at it for hours seeing how the stitches and designs have been brought together. In fact I ordered a small sample (A4 size) for the TRC Collection, it will take about three months to make. More about that in the future! I would also like to thank Mr. Khan for a lovely framed piece of chikan embroidery, which he very kindly gave me.

There was another type of embroidery called kamdani, which involves using narrow stripes of metal plate. A type of work that is dying out as it is so labour intensive. Unlike chikan work that is regarded as women’s embroidery, kamdani is worked by men (probably because it involves metal thread). If you are in Lucknow and have time to visit ADA (63 Hazratganj, Lucknow), then please do, it is worth it.

Gillian Vogelsang, 27th July 2017


Chasing embroideries in Delhi

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Detail of a Chinese-style Parsi embroidery from India, made in 2017 for the TRC.

Detail of a Chinese-style Parsi embroidery from India, made in 2017 for the TRC.

For the last week Willem and I have been in New Delhi, India. Willem for work (leaving me here in Delhi while he went to Thailand for a few days) and me for, well, work if you call hunting for hand embroidery work. Actually it has been quite difficult to find any good quality items. Much is quickly made and sold at relatively high prices by and to people who have little knowledge of the subject. I was offered printed, woven and machine embroidered pieces, even a brass elephant at one point, but little hand embroidery. I would very much like to thank Pralay and Neena Kanungo for helping me chase embroideries in the state emporiums. It was fun, and certainly gave an insight into the embroideries of the many parts of India.

But as the week went on life has improved and I have been talking with various groups about hand embroidery. This information is needed for the new encyclopaedia the TRC is working on, as well as for a possible exhibition about Indian and embroidery. One of the groups I have been talking with are the Parsi, a Zoroastrian group from what is now Iran that has lived in India for a thousand years. They have long been merchants especially with China and not surprisingly, there is a strong Chinese feel (design, colour and technique wise) to much of their embroidery. In the past they also produced European Berlin wool work designs, and amazing portraits worked using ultra-fine single stranded silk threads, as well as their own versions of the Chinese embroideries. The latter combine Chinese, Persian, Indian and European elements.

In addition to talking about embroideries we also talked about Zoroastrian clothing and I have ordered some special items that are worn under normal garments, plus a beaded toran, a form of decoration that goes over the doorway to welcome visitors and protect the home. And, although it is only at the early stages, we have been discussing the possiblity of having one of their students come to the TRC for a month to learn about creating and running a small collection. Interesting days ahead!

I have also been talking with Jasleen Dhamija, the Indian grande dame of textile and embroidery studies. It has been a great privilege to meet and talk with her. Her comprehensive knowledge of Indian and indeed Asian textiles is amazing. She has also very kindly offered to help with the new encyclopaedia, which gives a lot of confidence in what we are doing. Tomorrow Willem and I go to Lucknow to look at chikan embroidery (a form of white work), and then onto Agra to see the Taj Mahal and local embroidery, and then finally onto Jaipur, which has another form of embroidery called gota (which is more of an appliqué technique than embroidery). I am beginning to wonder whether it will be necessary to buy another suitcase for the trip back....

We will certainly miss the hotel we are staying, Lutyens Bungalow along Prthviraj Road; the meals around the long table in the garden, surrounded by squirrels, birds and bats, and the ever so friendly and helpful staff have been a great support, certainly while I was on my own.

Gillian Vogelsang, 25th July 2017


Buddhist robes

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Two Buddhist nuns in pink. Photograph by Shelley Anderson.

Two Buddhist nuns in pink. Photograph by Shelley Anderson.

I attended an international conference on Buddhist women recently and was fascinated with the variety of robes Buddhist nuns wore. It made me want to learn more.

Buddhism began some 2,500 years ago in northern India. There are three main traditions, each with a distinctive dress, and hundreds of denominations within each tradition.

The oldest tradition within Buddhism is Theravadan, practiced today mainly in southeast Asia. A Theravadan monk’s robe comes in three pieces: a sarong-like piece that falls from the waist to the ankles, tied by a cotton string; a rectangular piece (from two to almost three metres long) that is wrapped like a sari around the body, and draped over both shoulders or only the left shoulder; and a similar extra robe that can be worn in cold weather (called a sanghati robe). The nuns wear the same, plus a bodice underneath the robe.

“There’s a lot of fiddling and readjusting with Theravadan robes. They’re always slipping, as there’s no buttons or knots,” said an Australian Theravadan nun.

The colour of Theravadan robes ranges from orange to yellow to ochre. In Thailand, where there is a controversy about women’s ordination (hence, who can legally wear ordained robes), it can be a radical act for a nun to wear these robes.

Many Buddhist women in Thailand and Cambodia who want to renounce secular life wear a less controversial long white skirt, long-sleeved white blouse and a white rectangular cloth draped over their left shoulder. In Burma, nuns wear a saffron-coloured ankle-length skirt, a pink long-sleeved blouse and a pink rectangular cloth, again draped over their left shoulder.

Fortunately for Theravadans, the earliest Buddhist strictures around the appropriate cloth for robes no longer apply. Originally only cloth that had been thrown away was allowed: cloth soiled by childbirth or menstrual blood; gnawed by oxen or mice; burnt; or shrouds for the dead are specifically mentioned as permissible. Embellishing the robes by adding cowrie shells or owl feathers was prohibited. The cloth was scavenged, washed and then dyed with turmeric or saffron. These colours were supposedly considered unattractive. When I asked a Tibetan nun why her robes were maroon-coloured, I got a similar response: “It’s an unattractive colour.”

Theravadan nun from Thailand. Photograph by Shelley Anderson.

Theravadan nun from Thailand. Photograph by Shelley Anderson.

As Buddhism spread to northern Asia, robes changed. Exposing the right shoulder, a sign of respect in India, was considered indecent in China. There, nuns started to grow their own food rather than going on alms rounds. A grey long-sleeved tunic and loose trousers were practical to work in; a long-sleeved, ankle-length grey robe (adapted from Daoist robes), tied left over right; and an often differently coloured sanghati robe completed, and still completes, a Buddhist nun’s outfit. . “It’s very convenient and quick, if a visitor comes. Your clothes might be dirty from gardening but slip on a robe and you are ready to receive visitors to the temple,” a nun from Singapore told me.

It is the same in Korea, with some different details: a long grey cloth belt is knotted in front to close the robe. In some orders novices wear brown on their collars and cuffs for their first four years. A grey sun hat, grey tennis sneakers and grey knapsack may complete the nun’s every-day wear.

In Japan, a nun’s dress frequently consists of a white undershirt, and a short tunic and baggy trousers in grey or blue. A black ankle-length robe wrapped left over right (“You would frighten people if you wore it right over left—that’s for a dead person,” a young nun told me) can also be worn. This robe is made of a gauzy material for summer and a heavier material for winter (“It’s all polyester!” the same nun said).

Different denominations are shown by wearing different colored sashes over a shoulder, embroidered with the symbol of the denomination. More adaptations can be expected in robes as Buddhism spreads to the west. One Japanese teacher has suggested that American Buddhist robes should be made of blue denim, as it is inexpensive and common.

Shelley Anderson, 11th July 2017


Hand & Lock Embroidery exhibition

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Some military embroidery on show at the Hand & Lock exhibition. The jacket to the right is the TRC's Bethlehem jacket from Palestine, based on a British military uniform. It dates to the 1920s.

Some military embroidery on show at the Hand & Lock exhibition. The jacket to the right is the TRC's Bethlehem jacket from Palestine, based on a British military uniform. It dates to the 1920s.

I have just been to the Hand & Lock "250 Years of Embroidery" exhibition at the Bishopsgate's Institute (230 Bishopsgate) in London. It is only on for two days, so if you have the chance to see it tomorrow (13th July) then please make the effort, it is worth it.

It is a small, intense and thought provoking exhibition that includes a wide range of embroideries from various collections, including the Hand & Lock archives. There are some amazing examples of gold thread embroidery for military and general use, as well as beaded haute couture dress and jumpers, and letters and designs associated with the famous of the fashion and film world. There is, for example, a series of handbags made by Hand & Lock and designed by people such as Vivienne Westward. The handbags will be auctioned later in the year at Sotheby's with the process going to various charities (if only we had €20000 .....).

The exibition includes various themes, such as the history of craftsmanship and working with designers. It includes items from the following, very diverse sources: the Hand & Lock archives, the Diana Springall Collection, the Bishopgate Institute archives, the Lightfoot archive, as well as 'our' TRC Collection (lotus shoes from China, and the 'Bethlehem jacket' with imitation British military decoration; see illustration). The exhibition accompanies a one-day conference (13th July) at the same address about the history of embroidery, past, present and future.

For more information, click here.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 11th July 2017.


Visit to the Monastery of St. Ephrem the Syrian (pt. 2)

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Statue of Bishop Julius Yeshu Çiçek at the Monastery of St. Ephrem the Syrian, Glane, the Netherlands.

Statue of Bishop Julius Yeshu Çiçek at the Monastery of St. Ephrem the Syrian, Glane, the Netherlands.

After a first visit some weeks ago (click here), Willem and I last weekend have spent a little more time at the Syriac Orthodox monastery in Glane, in the east of the Netherlands. We went there to discuss further a display about the life and work of Bishop Julius Yeshu Çiçek, who died in 2005. We are slowly getting closer to the final form and feel, and only need a couple of large showcases..... We have sent letters to various museums and companies to see if they would be willing to donate suitable stands. Hopefully we will have some good news soon.

Following a discussion and demonstration of calligraphy by one of the monks it became clear that this skill played an important role in the life of the deceased bishop and to show his actual writing tools and manuscripts would be an important part of the display. He had a beautiful writing hand and to copy out the various gospels was literally a labour of love and devotion. The display will also include three of his outfits, as well as icons, staffs and objects worn and used by the bishop.

We also discussed the possibility of a book and a travelling exhibition about the Syriac Church, which has the working title, "The Illuminated Church" which will show the relationship between book illiuminations, vestments and embroidery. We have already started talking with members of the Syriac community in the Netherlands as well as nuns, monks and priests about the role that 'Syriac' clothing plays in their lives, at the level of individuals, families and during services. It is written from the outsiders point of view, which means they are going to be asked a lot of questions from two very curious people!

The proposed exhibition is going to include vestments and textiles, from the novice monk to, literally, the patriarch. It will also include manuscripts, book illuminations and texts, as well as embroidered textiles and garments for the congregation, monastic community and liturgical vestments for during a service.

As planned, the book and exhibition will be visually impressive and thought provoking, and hopefully will also inspire people to try a different range of designs and techniques. All being well both the book and the exhibition (which will be available for travelling to suitable venues in Europe and North America) will be ready and available by the summer of 2018.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, Sunday 9th July 2017.


My grandfather in Cologne, 1919

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Embroidered postcard, TRC 2017.2571.

Embroidered postcard, TRC 2017.2571.

Family history tells that my maternal grandfather, Francis Redvers Collings, was one of the first British soldiers to enter the German city of Cologne after the ceasefire of 11th November 1918, which in fact ended the First World War. British troops first entered the German Rhineland on 3rd December 1918. The British Army of the Rhine would remain in Germany until 1929, with their headquarters in Cologne. I mention this because the TRC last week acquired an embroidered postcard with the text "1919 Souvenir of Cologne" (TRC 2017.2571).

This postcard was produced in the tradition of the First World War postcards, which were sent home by the Allied forces fighting in the trenches of northern France and elsewhere. We already discussed these postcards in a blog from October 2015. The cards were often decorated with patriotic symbols, including the flags of the Allied forces. This particular postcard also shows these flags, being incorprated into the year 1919. There are the flags from Belgium, France, Great Britain, Italy, Japan and the USA.

This silk card, plus others from the TRC Collection, will shortly be part of a series of digital exhibitions that highlight different aspects of the TRC's collection.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 1st July 2017.

PS. By the way, my grandfather's middle name refers to General Sir Redvers Henry Buller (VC), the Commander-in-Chief of the British forces during the first few months of the Second Boer War in South Africa.


New acquisitions from Cambodia and Ethiopia

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The last week has brought some very different and varied items to the TRC. While we are continuing cataloguing the (vast) collection of textiles from the 20th century that were recently given to the TRC by Pepin van Rooijen (Amsterdam), we had some other items come in that we thought you might like to know about.

Detail of Cambodian silver thread textile, mid-20th century. TRC 2017.2572 2.

Detail of Cambodian silver thread textile, mid-20th century. TRC 2017.2572 2.

A Cambodian silver textile with a Dutch connection (TRC 2017.2572)

This is a another textile with a royal connection! Some years ago we were given an early 19th century lace shawl once owned by the Dutch queen, Anna Pavlovna (TRC 2014.0831). Now we have been given a length of purple with silver thread cloth that was given to Mrs. Eygenstein, Amsterdam by the Cambodian prince, Norodom Sondeth, a cousin to the then king, Norodom Sihanouk (1922-2012) and at that time the Cambodian Minister of Foreign Affairs. The textile was given as a 'thank you' to Mrs. Eygenstein following his stay in The Netherlands in 1952.

Mrs. Eygenstein was the translator for the prince and during his visit helped him in purchasing film and still cameras (a Hasselblad), as well as a motor bike (which he later crashed). The Eygenstein family and the prince stayed in contact for some years and he also sent a letter expressing his concern and regret for the Dutch people during the devastating floods of 1953 that killed hundreds of people, especially in Zeeland in the southern part of the country. They then lost contact, but in 1970's Mrs. Eygenstein tried to reach him again, but heard that he along with other, lesser members of the Cambodian royal family had been murdered by the Khmer Rouge, the communist group that came to power in 1975 under the command of Pol Pot.

The silver textile will be on display at the TRC in September as part of the Asia Year celebrations in Leiden. We would like to thank Mrs. Eygenstein's daughter, Mrs. Corretje Eijgenstein, for so very kindly giving this and other Asian textiles to the TRC. In particular she also gave a very large felt from Kyrgyzstan, which will be on display in the TRC Gallery as part of its Central Asian exhibition that opens on the 12th September.

Pair of Ethiopian trousers with embroidered legs, second half 20th century. TRC 2017.2570.

Pair of Ethiopian trousers with embroidered legs, second half 20th century. TRC 2017.2570.

Ethiopian embroidered trousers (TRC 2017.2567- 2017.2570)

On the same day that we were given the Cambodian and Central Asian textiles the TRC also acquired four pairs of men's trousers from Ethiopia. These date to the latter half of the 20th century and are associated with the Amhara people, from the northern and central highlands of the country.

Three of the trousers are made from narrow bands of locally woven cotton and they have been embroidered with circles, zig-zags and interlacing knots using various stitches, including chain stitch. The fourth pair is made from black machine woven cloth and embroidered using machine produced chain stitch. The TRC is slowly building up its collection of African textiles and garments, and these trousers add a new dimension to our holdings.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 1st July 2017


Two thousand new books for the TRC library

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The TRC has received a donation of some two thousand books for the ever-growing TRC library. Read more about this amazing gift, which will be added to the existing collection of almost 3000 publications on textiles and textile studies already catalogued.

Lees meer: Two thousand new books for the TRC library


Dressing the Church: Syriac Orthodox Church vestments and textiles

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Saint Ephrem Monastery of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Glane, The Netherlands.

Saint Ephrem Monastery of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Glane, The Netherlands.

The last few days have been very different for Willem and me. We spent the time in the Saint Ephrem, Syriac Orthodox Monastery in Glane in the east of the Netherlands. We had been invited to come to the monastery by HE Mor Polycarpus Augin Aydin, metropolitan bishop for the Syriac Orthodox Church in The Netherlands, following the opening of the TRC’s current exhibition about dress and diversity in the Middle East. An important part of the exhibition included Syriac monastic and liturgical garments and H.E. Mor Polycarpus officially opened the exhibition.

Many of the Syriac garments on display in the exhibition were donated by members of the Church and represent different levels, from monk and nun to bishop. Many of the items are embroidered in Turkey, but some are decorated in Kerala (India), where there is a large Syriac community. In addition we have just been given several (secular) outfits for a Syriac woman from the eastern part of Turkey. All of these items can be found in the TRC Collection database.

One of the main reasons for our visit is that the monastery wants to make a display of items relating to the life and work of the former Metropolitan Bishop, Mor Julius Yeshu Çiçek, who played an important role in the setting up of the Syriac Church in Europe and in The Netherlands in particular. The TRC has been asked to help with the display, which will include garments actually worn by the Bishop. The display will be opened on the 5th November 2017. In addition we have been asked to write a booklet about dress within the Syriac community and especially the monastic and liturgical forms. An exciting project indeed.

As part of this work we spent several days at the monastery and were able to attend various monastic services as well as a wedding and a baptism (of children and adults). We have also been given permission to ask a wide range of questions about the monastic way of life and the role of clothing as part of our research for the publication - ‘Dressing the Church’. We will be going back to the monastery in early July (just before we set off for India on another textile mission), to continue this work and see objects belonging to Mor Julius Yeshu Çiçek that will be used in the display. As you can imagine our list of questions is growing, but it will make the TRC’s collection of Syriac dress even more significant, when everything is put into context.

Gillian Vogelsang, 18th June 2017.


Garments made out of flour sacks

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I never thought I would get excited about printed sacks, but my interest in flour and food sacks and how they were used over the decades is increasing! I wrote in an early blog about a Canadian printed flour bag (TRC 2017.0422), which was sent to Belgium during the First World War (1914-1918), where it was embroidered by refugees. Thousands of similar bags made the same trip and some were then shipped back to Canada and the USA where they were given away as souvenirs, as well as sold in order to raise more money for buying and sending food to Belgium.

This item came with a group of embroideries given to the TRC by Pepin van Rooijen of Pepin Press, Amsterdam. Last week the TRC was given another group of textiles by Pepin, which included over thirty printed food sacks from the USA (for instance TRC 2017.1360). These were large bags made of cotton that were used for corn, flour, sugar, rice, and so forth in the USA and Canada.

Bag and sack producers soon discovered that if the cotton sacks were decorated with a colourful printed design, then people would buy their bags (and contents). By the 1920’s garments and household objects (such as curtains and quilts) made out of these food sacks became an economic necessity in many poorer families. With the Great Depression of the 1930’s even more families depended on these sacks to provide basic textile necessities for family and household use. The sacks came in various sizes and qualities depending on what was being stored in them – flour bags tended to be a finer cloth than, for example, those used for maize or sugar.

Most sacks were between 75-110 cm in length and 45-50 cm wide when folded in half (to create the sack). Lengths of cloth can often be identified as ex-food sacks by a line of course sewing (or the resulting needle holes) along two edges. Sometimes the name of the manufacturer was also printed onto the cloth (often using a washable ink), while on other occasions a pre-printed label was used that could be peeled off.

Mexican flour sack, TRC 2014.0194

Mexican flour sack, TRC 2014.0194

The designs used for the food sacks varied considerably – with each printing companying vying to get the most popular designs and so sell the most cloth to the food sellers. The patterns ranged from stripes geometric shapes, stylised flowers to images of pigs, horse racing and cowboys at work. The cheaper ones were in one colour, while more up market variations had two or three colours.

By the 1940’s thousands of metres of cloth were being printed each year to supply the need for decorative food sacks that could be bought, swapped and generally saved until enough pieces of the right colour and design were acquired that could be made into garments, such as underwear, dresses, skirts, blouses, aprons and head coverings. In order to encourage people/women to make more of such garments, various booklets were published on how to make the most out of these printed lengths of material. There were also large and popular annual competitions for the best and most ingenious use of such sacks. Courses were taught at local colleges and in people’s homes in how to make sacks into garments for domestic use, as well as for sale.

The production of printed food sacks stopped in the 1960’s as people became more affluent and paper, later plastic, bags took over the role of the printed cloth forms. But for many (older) people the role of food sack garments remains a powerful reminder of their childhood and the important role of make-do and mend and not to waste anything that can be re-used.

While looking for more information and examples, I suddenly remembered that there are three Mexican flour sacks in the TRC Collections (for instance TRC 2014.0194), as well as a blouse made from a flour sack (TRC 2015.0192). I also came across, in the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection, some early 20th century images of Syrian and Armenian refugee children (probably in Lebanon) wearing USA flour sacks, and of poor Americans in the southern states of the USA wearing similar sacks.

What is certain is that looking at a ‘humble’ flour or food sack will never be the same. The social and economic history as well as ingenuity and skills of people who made clothing from ‘nothing’ is highlighted by these sacks and the finished garments. We hope to have a small exhibition about these and similar garments in the future at the TRC, so if you have any examples of printed flour or food sack garments or textiles you would be willing to donate to the TRC please let me know at Dit e-mailadres is beschermd tegen spambots. U heeft Javascript nodig om het te kunnen zien.  

Gillian Vogelsang, 29 May 2017


Fowler Museum book donation

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As a follow up to my visit to the Fowler Museum, Los Angeles, in April/May of this year, and my blog about the visit, I thought the TRC’s blog readers might be interested in having further details about the textile activities of the Museum and in particular about the Fowler Museum Textile Series (as far as I could see this series is not listed on the Fowler Museum website).

The series was started in 1998. It contains a series of well-illustrated monographs about the history and types of textiles and garments from around the world. These books are written by specialists in the various fields of textiles studies.

The Fowler Museum Textile Series includes the following titles. Copies of many of these books have recently been donated to the TRC:

  • Roy W. HAMILTON (1998), From the Rainbow’s Varied Hue: Textiles of the Southern Philippines (ISBN: 978-0930741655).
  • Doran H. ROSS (1989). Wrapped in Pride: Ghanaian Kente and African American Identity (ISBN: 978-0930741693).
  • Patrick DOWDEY (1999), Threads of Light: Chinese Embroidery from Suzhou and the Photography of Robert Glenn Ketchum (ISBN: 978-0930741716).
  • Anne SUMMERFIELD (1999), Walk in Splendor: Ceremonial Dress and the Minangkabau (ISBN: 978-0930741730).
  • Sharon Sadako TAKEDA (2002), Japanese Fishermen’s Coats from Awaji Island (ISBN: 978-0930741860).
  • Gloria Granz GONICK, Yo-ichiro HAKOMORI and Hiroyuki NAGAHARA (eds, 2003), Maturi! Japanese Festival Arts (ISBN: 978-0930741914).
  • Chapurukha M. KUSIMBA, J. Claire ODLAND and Bennet BRONSON (eds; 2007), Unwrapping the Textile Traditions of Madagascar (ISBN: 978-0930741945).
  • B. Lynne MILGRAM and Roy W. HAMILTON (2008). Material Choices: Refashioning Bast and Leaf Fibers in Asia and the Pacific (ISBN: 9780974872988).
  • Rens HERINGA (2010). Nini Towok’s Spinning Wheel: Cloth and the Cycle of Life in Kerek, Java (ISBN: 978-0977834426).
  • Roy W. HAMILTON (2012). Weavers’ Stories from Island Southeast Asia (ISBN: 978-0977834495).
  • Elizabeth Wayland BARBER and Barbara Belle SLOAN (eds; 2013). Resplendent Dress from Southeastern Europe: A History in Layers (ISBN: 978-0984755035).
  • Elena PHIPPS (2013). The Peruvian Four-Selvaged Cloth: Ancient Threads/New Directions (ISBN: 9780984755059).
  • HAMILTON, Roy W. and Joanna BARRKMAN (eds., 2014). Textiles of Timor: Island in the Woven Sea, Los Angeles: Fowler Museum Textile Series no. 13. ISBN 978-0930741501.

All of these books are well worth having, as they provide detailed information about the use of textiles and dress in various parts of the world. In particular the colour illustrations make these volumes special. Over the next few months the Fowler Textile Series books now at the TRC will be described separately in the column Books Showcased.

Gillian Vogelsang, 28th May 2017.







Lyon, France

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Impression of the exhibition at the Musée de Lyon, France.

Impression of the exhibition at the Musée de Lyon, France.

Lyon, France, is proud of its textile history. This begins in the city’s airport, where mannequins in designer clothes are scattered throughout the arrival hall. Their plaques state that Lyon has been the Silk Capital of France since the 16th century, and continues to produce luxury silks, taffetas, velvets and laces for top fashion brands. Then there’s a Metro line called “La Soie” (“Silk”) and glossy advertisements for a candy named “Le Coussin de Lyon” (the “Cushion of Lyon”, after a silk cushion in front of a local statue of the Virgin Mary).

It is Lyon’s Textile Museum, however, that really showcases the city’s love affair with silk. The Museum has one of the world’s largest textile collections with some two and a half million objects, spanning 4000 years. The collection was begun in 1864 by the city’s Chamber of Commerce, which still runs the Museum. Herein lies a problem: several years ago the government cut its subsidies for Chamber of Commerces by 40 percent. The Lyon Chamber of Commerce decided it could no longer afford to keep the Textile Museum and its sister collection, the Museum of Decorative Arts.

Museum staff and supporters are working hard trying to secure private funding to keep the Museum open. If they do not succeed, the Museum may close at the end of this year and the collection will be divided up. Given that the Museum also houses a conservation and documentation centre and is headquarters, since 1954, for the prestigious Centre International de’Etude des Textiles Anciens (CIETA), this would be a blow to textile research.

It would also be a blow to the average textile lover, if the Museum’s most recent exhibition “The Genius of Industry” is an indication. It is a stunning exhibition of 18th and 19th century Lyonnaise fabrics, mostly used to decorate walls and furniture in wealthy homes or in palaces such as Versailles. The exhibition opens with a 19th century wood and iron dryer, beautifully decorated on the outside with Chinese images of silk production. The dryer was used to dry samples from silk bales. Silk can absorb up to one-third of its weight in water. Using this machine, prospective buyers were assured they were getting as much silk as possible.

And then come the stunning textiles: three metre long, beautifully preserved panels, many from silk and linen, often embellished with gold and silver thread. One such panel portrayed peacock feathers, bouquets of big flowers and broad ribbons, and used 48 different colours. This fabric decorated Marie-Antoinette’s bedroom walls. I was surprised at the narrowness of the panels, until I saw the exhibition’s Jacquard loom, with its width of about 40 centimetres. Because of meticulous record keeping, the names of the designer and the weaver (and, in the case of embroidery, the embroiderer) are often known. Each panel was accompanied by detailed technical information, unfortunately (for me) only in French. This is an exhibition that deserves to be seen—and a Museum that deserves to stay open.

By Shelley Anderson, 23rd May 2017

See also the blog of 22 May 2016. 


Philip V of Spain and Queen Maria Luisa: A serviette from 1701 with a long history

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The text and designs on the damask serviette woven for the wedding of Philip V of Spain and his wife, Queen Maria Luisa of Savoy, in 1701.

The text and designs on the damask serviette woven for the wedding of Philip V of Spain and his wife, Queen Maria Luisa of Savoy, in 1701.

The TRC has just acquired a large linen serviette (115 x 88 cm) that has a fascinating history. It is made from a damask weave and was designed to celebrate the marriage of King Philip V of Spain and Maria Luisa of Savoy in 1701. The cloth depicts the King and Queen, as well as the arms of both royal houses. The representations on the right hand side are a mirror image of those on the left hand side.


The reason why serviettes in this period were so large is because women's dresses were particularly grand and a large piece of cloth was needed to protect the garments during meals.

Philip V (1683-1746) was the grandson of Louis XIV of France. His accession to the Spanish throne in 1700, which led to close dynastic links between France and Spain and the shifting of the balance of power in Europe, resulted in the War of the Spanish Succession, which was concluded in 1713 with the Treaty of Utrecht (and the occupation by Great Britain of Gibraltar, and the port of Antwerp being permanently blockaded by the Dutch). His wife was fourteen years old when she married. She died in 1714 of tuberculosis. 

Gillian Vogelsang, 10th May 2017



The TRC in Los Angeles

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Fowler Museum, Los Angeles

Fowler Museum, Los Angeles

For the last week or so I have been in sunny Los Angeles, soaking up ..... textiles. I was asked by the Fowler Museum, UCLA, to comment on a collection of Syrian garments they are in the process of being given by a private collector. The garments are a spectacular group and all being well will feature in an exhibition at the Museum in about 18 months from now.

I left Leiden on the Thursday in order to get over jet lag in time for work on the following Monday and to see some friends. Friday saw a visit to the Getty Museum, and the chance to see four hundred years of European paintings. Including some, but not as many as I had hoped for, with embroidered garments. It was worth it though, just to experience the Getty and its architecture.

On Saturday afternoon, I gave a lecture about embroidery in the Arab world to the Textile Museum Associates of Southern California (TMA/SC) based in Los Angeles. Despite a change of venue and time there was a full house and extra chairs had to be sought. The lecture was called "1001 Embroidered Tales" and looked at the social and economic stories behind individual pieces and groups of embroideries in the Middle East. At the end of the meeting various members of the public displayed and talked about items they had brought with them. It was great fun. I also had the chance to talk about the work of the TRC and several people offered their help in obtaining pieces and thinking who might be willing to financially help the TRC. A special guest was Professor Olaf Kaper from Leiden, board member of the TRC, and presently in Los Angeles upon the invitation of the Getty.

We later also briefly discussed the possibility of setting up a non-profit society called "American Friends of the TRC." More about this in due course. One lady in particular, Marge Gajicki (The Folk Motif) went out of her way (literally as she lived in Long Beach about 50 km away) to get items of Hispanic and Western clothing, including a bolo tie that was given by her brother-in-law and several shirts of different styles, including Western, Hispanic and Hawaiian forms. Many thanks Marge! It means that I can face Shelley and Maria (two American volunteers at the TRC) with a calm heart when I get back as they want to build up the American dress collection at the TRC and I was given a shopping list, always an interesting moment.

A woman's outdoor coat from Uzbekistan, donated to the TRC by David and Elizabeth Reisbord.

A woman's outdoor coat from Uzbekistan, donated to the TRC by David and Elizabeth Reisbord.

Monday saw work start on the collection at the Fowler and the next few days were spent in photographing, cataloguing and discussing the collection, as well as talking with the exhibition and the publication committees. On Wednesday evening I gave a talk to the Fowler Textile Council at the Museum, with the chief curator of the Museum, Matthew Robb as my 'assistant'. One of the guests was Willeke Wendrich, now Professor of Egyptology in Los Angeles, who was one of the first Board members of the TRC in Leiden. She and her husband have been friends of long standing ! My talk was about the garments I was working on and the audience was given a sneak preview of an exhibition that does not (yet) exist. All I can say is that if and when the paper work is in order it will be a colourful and surprising display of Syrian garments, most of which date to the early 20th century.

While at the Fowler Museum it was mentioned that they had a series of books about textiles and clothing (well worth looking into). So on behalf of the TRC Library I went into begging mode and Marla Berns, the director of the Museum, very kindly agreed that the TRC could have any books on textiles and dress in their various series. This amount to 22 titles! Not only that, but the Museum paid for their postage to Leiden as they were far too heavy for me to take back in my (small) suitcase. This is a very generous gift and one which is greatly appreciated. The books will appear in the TRC Books Showcased over the next few months, we may even have a special issue dedicated to Fowler books.

The next few days prior to leaving were spent with friends, David and Elizabeth Reisbord, looking at their textile collection and dreaming of what the TRC could and should do in the future. They very kindly gave the TRC a group of Guatemalan textiles and garments and Indian embroideries. The latter will be used in the TRC's forthcoming encyclopaedia about embroideries from Iran, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. In addition, the TRC was given several textiles and a woman's coat from Uzbekistan, which can be seen in our forthcoming exhibition called "Dressing the Stans" that opens in September 2017 at the TRC Gallery.

Before signing off I would like to thank various people for making my trip to LA particularly memorable, notably David and Elizabeth Reisbord, Marla Berns (director of the Fowler Museum), Matthew Robb (senior curator of the Fowler Museum), the dedicated members of the TMA/SC and those of the Fowler Textile Council, many of whom belong to both groups. There is certainly a lot happening within the textile and dress field in the LA district and more is coming. Well worth keeping an eye on.

And the highlight of my trip to LA? Paddling in the Pacific Ocean with Elizabeth….

Gillian Vogelsang, 9th May 2017


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