TRC Blog: Textile Moments

The Embroidery Show

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Reverse of an embroidery of Rembrandt's De Nachtwacht.

Reverse of an embroidery of Rembrandt's De Nachtwacht.

Today I was struck by an announcement in the Dutch press. It is about a famous modern Dutch artist who tells about his fascination with embroidery. The Embroidery Show is an exhibition that is held in Museum De Fundatie, Zwolle, The Netherlands, from 28 April to 18 September 2016. It shows some one thousand embroideries that were collected since 2005 at various flea markets and other places by the Dutch artist, Rob Scholte.

With this collection and the exhibition the artist wants to highlight, in his own words, “traditional, handmade embroideries, which mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers and great-great-grandmothers (and sometimes men) of our country have made, anonymously, with much love and patience, in the few hours of spare time that they had…. The result of all these weeks, months and years of hard work is sold by their descendants for an euro.”

With the exhibition Scholte wants to give embroideries the respect that they deserve. What he does, surprisingly, is showing the back of the embroideries, together with all their fringes and loose hanging threads. He frames them backwards, signs them, and shows them as such to the public. It is the reverse of the embroideries, according to the artist, that shows the efforts and the character of the embroiderer. The exhibition shows the backside of the embroidered masterpieces of Dutch painting, by Rembrandt, Vermeer and many others.

Willem Vogelsang, 28 April 2016

   

Some interesting meetings in London

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The last few days have been very busy at the TRC, especially as I was asked to go to London to give a lecture about Iranian regional dress. So early on Thursday (21st April), I flew to London. In the morning I had an appointment at Hand & Lock, a hand embroidery company that dates back to the late eighteenth century. It specialises in military embroidery using various gold work techniques, as well as machine embroidered patches, and so forth. They also make dresses and garments for film and pop stars and royalty from around the world. I was given a conducted tour of the premises as well as having the chance to meet various members of staff and to discuss how we can work together. Lots of potential, including shared exhibitions, reference collections of military laces, and so forth. They also have a very interesting archive that I would love to dive into, especially the folders marked Iraq and Oman that date back to the first half of the 20th century.

The next appointment was with a colleague who works at Bloomsbury Press (who are the publishers of The Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World, 2016). We are discussing the possibility of the TRC producing two more books about the history of embroidery and to make it into a series. We will shortly hear if Bloomsbury is officially interested and if yes, we will let you know.

And then in the evening I gave a lecture for the Iranian Society (London) at the Army and Navy Club. I should like to thank Janet Rady and Antony Wynn for asking me to come and give the lecture and for their hospitality in London. It was much appreciated. The lecture was based on one I gave in Edinburgh last year and is about how the TRC came to have the largest collection of Iranian regional dress outside of Iran. There were many people attending the lecture and the feedback was very positive, if not a little surprised that such a collection actually exists in Europe. This was one of the main reasons I gave the lecture, so that more attention can be given to the collection. I also announced that we are now looking for €8000 to pay for the collection to be properly catalogued and photographed, prior to it coming on-line on the TRC Collection Database, as well as for illustrations in the book we are currently writing about Iranian regional dress based on the TRC items.

In 2013, I would like to add, the TRC staged a large exhibition about Iranian regional dress called Beyond the Chador, which included 83 outfits, plus individual items. The items used in this exhibition are available to other suitable institutes should they wish to put on such a diverse and colourful exhibition.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 26 April 2016 

   

Jean Kerr's dress found off the coast of Texel

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"Dat jurkje is hier vlakbij uit zee opgevist." ('That dress was fished out of the sea nearby').

This afternoon Gillian and I spent a few hours on a boat out shrimp fishing off the coast of the island of Texel, in the north of The Netherlands. At a certain moment the captain told us that 'that dress' was found nearby. He referred to an early 17th century dress that was found some two years ago underwater, in a chest covered with sand, near the island of Texel. The find was only made public some ten days ago, and since last week it can be seen in a local museum, Kaap Skil, in the village of Oudeschild, on Texel. It drew attention from all over the world.

The dress of Jean Kerr, found off the coast of Texel.

The dress of Jean Kerr, found off the coast of Texel.

The dress was of course the reason that Gillian and I, after attending a wedding in Alkmaar, travelled north yesterday evening, took the ferry to Texel, and checked in at an idyllic hotel at the little harbour of Oudeschild. First thing this morning we went to the local museum and there it was, beautifully displayed together with other finds from the same shipwreck. The dress almost looks as if it was worn yesterday and thrown into the laundry basket. It is incredible that the garment has been preserved underwater for so long.

I don't have to refer to the details of the dress. Much has been published about it in recent days (see also the TRC facebook pages). We now know it was part of the wardrobe of a lady at the court of the British King, Charles I, who around 1642 sent his eleven-year old daughter, Mary, to Holland to join her husband, William II of the House of Orange. The young girl was accompanied by her mother, the Queen, and many followers. Yet, the real reason for the diplomatic mission may have been to send his jewellery and other valuables over to Holland for safe keeping in the face of the growing opposition led by Cromwell. The revolt of the Parliamentarians, as you know, would eventually cost the king his throne and his head.

Twelve ships brought the Queen and her daughter to Holland, together with the valuables of the king and his followers. One of these ships was shipwrecked off the coast of Texel, and that particular ship contained the wardrobe of one of the British ladies. From recovered contemporary correspondence we now seem to know the name of the owner of the dress. It was Jean Kerr (1585-1643), the Countess of Roxburghe, who was 57 at the time. She was (partly) identified because of her dress size, namely what is now size 42. She was a Catholic, and lady-in-waiting to Henrietta Maria, the French wife of King Charles I, and the mother of the young bride. When the news of the shipwreck reached England, one of the opponents of the King gleefully said that the Ladies and their maids now had to cover themselves in Dutch cloth. Whether or not wearing Dutch clothing is such a bad thing I could not honestly say, but sadly she did not survive the loss of her clothing for long.

Willem Vogelsang, 23 April 2016

   

Catalogue with a sad story

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Chris Lebeau, 1878-1945

Chris Lebeau, 1878-1945

The TRC has just been given a collection of textile books for its library. Among the many items was a thin booklet with the title, Catalogus van Lakens en Sloopen van E.J.F. van Dissel en Zonen te Eindhoven. The booklet dates from about 1911/12. The company of Van Dissel was set up in the early 1870s by the Rev. E.J.F. van Dissel, initially in the village of Bladel in the eastern part of the Netherlands and from 1873 it was established in nearby Stratum (near the town of Eindhoven).

From 1890 the company was run by other members of the Van Dissel family and it developed into a large linen concern that employed a number of famous Dutch designers, as well as hundreds of workers. Van Dissel fused with another Dutch company, Van den Briel and Verster (also known as the Koninklijke Eindhovensche Damast-Linnen & Pellen Fabriek), in 1963. The factory was closed in 1971.

Napkins, with designs by Chris Lebeau.

Napkins, with designs by Chris Lebeau.

The booklet given to the TRC is basically a sales catalogue of designs for hand and machine embroidery that could be worked on pillows and sheets intended to make up part of a bride’s dowry. There are over forty designs in the book that was intended to show how pillow covers and sheets could be used together to create various artistic scenes. There is also a section on monograms that could be worked by the company or at home.

The embroidery designs and illustrations in the sales catalogue were produced by the Dutch illustrator, painter and graphic designer, but also anarchist and vegetarian, Chris (Joris Johannes Christiaan) Lebeau (1878-1945). He worked for Van Dissel in the early part of the twentieth century. He also worked for a number of other companies, including those producing flags and banners, glass wear and graphic designs. Between 1926-1928, for example, he made wall paintings for the Old-Catholic Church (built in 1926; Zouterwoudsesingel 49), in Leiden. He even produced a series of Dutch stamps called the Vliegende Duif (“Flying dove”), which were available in the Netherlands from 1924, and which were again issued in 1941.

Lebeau was also famous for his graphic textile designs that were used for batiks, curtains and tapestries. But he was particularly known for his wide range of patterns for woven linen items, such as damask table cloths, serviettes, pillow cases and sheets. It is some of these designs that are illustrated in the catalogue.

Just before the beginning of the Second World War (1939-1945), Lebeau entered into a fake marriage with a German Jewish refugee in order to help her staying in Holland. During the war itself he used his artistic talents to create false identity papers for various people. He was arrested in November 1943 and sent to Dachau concentration camp where he died on 2 April 1945. American troops entered the camp on the 28th. An exhibition of Lebeau's work was set up in the Drents Museum, Assen, in 1987.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 19 April 2016

Dutch stamps (the Vliegende Duif series) designed by Chris Lebeau

Dutch stamps (the Vliegende Duif series) designed by Chris Lebeau

   

Major addition to TRC collection

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Four traditional men's belts from Romania. TRC collection.

Four traditional men's belts from Romania. TRC collection.

It has been an exciting day at the TRC (when is it not?). As you may know, in January (2016) we heard about a large collection of European regional dress that was looking for a new home and the TRC agreed to help out. Thanks to the support of various members of the Nederlandse Kostuumvereniging and a very generous donation from Rotary Leiden, we have been able to cover the main costs of bringing the collection to Leiden and purchasing storage racks. Other donations, including one particular donation from Australia, means we have enough money to cover the boxes, etc. And today, 2nd April, saw the first batch of the collection coming to the TRC. The second group of items will be coming in two weeks.

Close-up of leather-embroidered traditional Romanian belt. TRC collection.

Close-up of leather-embroidered traditional Romanian belt. TRC collection.

Dressed figures, outfits, individual garments and textiles, all arrived this afternoon in numerous boxes and by the rack load. We are now busy sorting out  and examining the contents, working out where items come from and what they go with. There are many items from Germany, including a wide range of 20th century women's caps decorated with embroidery, ribbons and in some cases pom-poms. There are also outfits from the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Spain, Sweden, as well as Lapland. And that is just in the boxes and on the mannequins. We have not yet opened the clothing bags that are hanging from two large racks. We will be cataloguing those next week. The exciting job, which is made a little harder because we are not sure what will come in the second batch of the collection. But that is what makes working at the TRC fun, challenging and inspirational.

In August 2016 we are going to use many of these items in an exhibition about European regional dress, with an emphasis on embroidered and beaded items. It is going to be a colourful display that will include some unusual items. More details to come .....

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 2 April 2016

   

A Flower Power bridal dress from 1974

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Since I started working as an intern/volunteer at the TRC in January 2016, I have been involved in the process of cataloguing textiles and dress-related gifts by generous donors. Every time a guest arrives at the TRC with a donation, I am curious and excited to learn what is in that mysterious bag or box they have with them. And every textile has its own story, big or small. I would like to highlight the story of a very special donation that the TRC recently received, from a donor who wants to remain anonymous.

The donation concerns a wedding outfit from the 1974 Spring/Summer collection of the famous Dutch fashion designer, Frank Govers (1932–1997). It consists of a wedding dress, made of heavy cream white fabric, with yellow flower appliqué at the bottom of the dress. The dress, which is very wide, has a low neckline, and long, wide sleeves, which have a remarkable large opening along the arms. The large, circular tulle veil ought to be placed on top of the head, and secured with a long, narrow scarf made of yellow silk fabric that one ties around the head like a crown. Two big, yellow flowers, made of artificial silk, were then fastened to the hair at the height of the ears.

This ensemble was purchased by the bride herself at Govers’s atelier for 1400 guilders, a considerable sum in those days. At the moment of purchase, the dress was too long for her, so the atelier adjusted the dress to fit. However, besides being too long, the dress was also too wide for the ‘petite’ bride at the neck line. She cleverly concealed this by wearing the yellow silk scarf and the flowers around her neck, instead of the way described above. This beautiful bride married on the 28th of June, 1974. In the picture you see her together with her little niece, who was her bridesmaid, wearing a dress by the famous Welsh fashion designer Laura Ashley (1925–1985), a very en vogue choice at that time.

The bridal dress can be seen at the TRC upon request.

Nelleke Honcoop, 18 March 2016

   

PhD defence by Tineke Rooijakkers

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Congregation in a Coptic church, Egypt. Photograph by Tineke Rooijakkers.

Congregation in a Coptic church, Egypt. Photograph by Tineke Rooijakkers.

Thursday, 10 March 2016, was a special day for various reasons, but mostly because of the defence of her PhD thesis, by Tineke Rooijakkers. Tineke became part of the TRC family when she was a first year archaeology student and attended a lecture I gave about archaeological textiles. It apparently made sense to her and she has been following and studying dress and identity and Middle Eastern textiles ever since. Initially she was helping at the TRC as a student volunteer, later she was working with the collection, helping visitors, and writing a BA thesis on dress, and so forth.

All of this led to her working on a PhD as part of a project organised by Prof. Bas ter Haar Romeny (Amsterdam University, VU; and TRC board member) about Coptic identity in Egypt, with Prof. ter Haar as supervisor, and dr Mat Immerzeel and myself as co-supervisors. Her thesis looks at dress and identity in both antiquity and the present. It is called Dress Norms and Markers. A comparative study of Coptic identity and dress in the past and present. Much to Tineke’s surprise (but nobody else's), her thesis not only gave her the title of Dr. but also a cum laude, which within the Dutch academic system is the highest distinction you can achieve.

Well done Tineke, we are very proud of you.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 13 March 2016

   

Cultural appropriation

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Courtesy AP

Courtesy AP

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts recently stopped visitors from trying on a kimono and posing in front of a painting by Monet of a woman wearing this characteristic Japanese garment. There was also a production of Gilbert & Sulivan's 'Mikado' that was apparently cancelled. Why were people not allowed to wear a kimono? Why was watching the Mikado considered improper? What had the organisors done wrong? Well, they committed the unforgiveable sin of what in Boston was called 'cultural appropriation'. It is about, shock horror, adopting aspects from one culture and incorporating it into your own. It is about a Westerner practising yoga, eating Chinese food, wearing a kimono, watching the Mikado, and, to cap it all, sin of all sins, wearing a sombrero at a party (I am not joking). Perhaps you should look at the photograph of three young women (I think they are Mexican, although wearing very 'Western' style clothing) protesting in the Boston museum against people wearing a kimono. Some of the words they use are Orientalism, Exotification (sic), Dehumanization. And of course, racism is also mentioned.

Actually, the term is used incorrectly. In earlier days the phrase cultural appropriation was used when a certain aspect of a culture is appropriated by another and the origins deliberately obscured or misrepresented. The term was used, for example, for Palestinian garments being sold as 'Israeli'.

But apart from the incorrect application of the word, the events in Boston remain remarkable. It is easy to make jokes about this movement and about the long words that are being used. May Mexicans or Japanese eat a pizza, and if so, are they involved in cultural appropriation? But there is much more than that. I understand that minority groups need, and have every right to fight for their position in society, and use various means to achieve this objective. These means are fortunately often symbolic. In Holland it is the saga of Zwarte Piet; in other cultures it may be a particular statue (in Oxford plans were only recently scrapped to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes), changing a street name, or whatever. In many cases the minority groups are absolutely right in demanding these changes.

But this new wave of denouncing what is called cultural appropriation goes much further than that. It means that people in the Western world (I understand it is only the Western world that is at fault) should distance themselves from other cultures, look at them as strange, not to be touched (literally), and in fact, contrary to what the protesters in Boston want, regard these 'other' cultures as exotic. And what does it mean for those who are born in those 'other' cultures? Do they have to remain there, and retain and defend to the death their inherited culture? Are the three young women in Boston, enjoying no doubt the advantages of Western life, going to tell their Mexican (?) family that they should go on living as they always did? I think the campaign against what is called cultural appropriation leads to something else, namely folklorisation, which, as I interpret it, is the framing of other people and their culture into a romantic mould that clearly separates 'them' from 'us'. 

In a recent article published by the BBC (11 March, "A point of view: When does borrowing from other cultures become ' appropriation'?"), it is clearly explained that the sharing of different aspects of culture helps towards a better understanding of other people and even to celebrate other cultures. At the TRC in Leiden, the visitors enjoy wearing a kimono, a burqa, or a Mexican sombrero, so that they can have the chance to learn about other cultures. Knowledge, and direct experiences with other cultures, stimulate understanding. Creating a distance between cultures leads to ignorance and misunderstanding.

Willem Vogelsang, 13 March 2016

   

New outfit for the Afghan women's soccer team

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New outfit for Afghan national women's soccer team

New outfit for Afghan national women's soccer team

Women want to play football, also in Afghanistan, but what should they wear? Not a simple question in a country that is so deeply conservative and torn apart by more than thirty years of civil war. On the 8th of March, International Women's Day, the national women's team of Afghanistan showed its new hijabi outfit, which covers them from head to toe. The outfit includes a close fitting body shirt with sleeves, a hood and leggings; a jersey; and shorts. The new outfit was designed by the Danish sportswear firm of Hummel. Its owner wrote on the Hummel website: "We don't sponsor the biggest teams in the world, but we make partnerships with teams and clubs with a story to tell, like Afghanistan". Khalida Popal, a former captain of the team, tells that "this new uniform represents the past. This new uniform represents the future." And, as such, Popal tells, this new uniform represents the true makeup and the true objective of her national team.

The home stadium of the Afghan national teams is what is popularly known as the Ghazi Stadium in Kabul, which in the 1990s was the location of public executions, including those of 'adulterous' women, by the then Taliban rulers. Looking at the women's outfit it may look somewhat weird to Westerners, but considering the history of women's position in Afghanistan, this space suit nevertheless shows, I think, enormous progress.

Willem Vogelsang, 9 March 2016 

 

   

Krishna in the Garden of Assam

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A series of silk, 17th century Vrindavani Vastra textiles, now on display in the British Museum, London.

A series of silk, 17th century Vrindavani Vastra textiles, now on display in the British Museum, London.

Last Thursday, March 3rd, and just before the official book launch that afternoon of Gillian's Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World in the Petrie Museum in Londonwe went to see a special exhibition in the British Museum about a particular type of figured woven textile from northeastern India. The main exhibit is a truly enormous piece of material of some nine metres long and more than two metres wide. It  is made up of twelve strips that are sewn together and are topped with three bands of Chinese damask and one band of Chinese brocade. The panels are made of silk and ornamented with the most wonderful illustrations, captions and texts, woven into the material. They date back to the late seventeenth century and derive from Assam in northeastern India. The panels were originally used and exhibited independently. but in later years were taken to Tibet, and eventually transported to Britain. This happened in the early 20th century after the march upon Lhasa by Francis Younghusband (1904-1905), which was organised in order to counter the perceived spread of Russian influence in the region. Perceval Landon was the war correspondent of The Times during the expedition. He apparently got hold of the nine metres long piece of material and had it sent and eventually donated to the British Museum. The same man, some years previously and during the Boer War, proudly posed for a photograph in South Africa together with the author and Nobel-Prize winner Rudyard Kipling !

Fragment from the Vrindavani Vastra on display in the British Museum, 2016, showing the snake demon Kaliya being defeated by Krishna.

Fragment from the Vrindavani Vastra on display in the British Museum, 2016, showing the snake demon Kaliya being defeated by Krishna.

The panels illlustrate the life of Krishna, one of the most popular deities of India and an incarnation of one of the main gods, Vishnu. The type of the illustrated panels is generally called Vrindavani Vastra, or the cloth of Vrindavan, named after the region in northern India where Krishna is thought to have grown up. The panels show various scenes from the life of the young Krishna. As a true Hercules, he defeated a whole series of demons, including a crocodile, a multi-headed serpent (Kaliya) and an ill-tempered crane. But there are also representations of the naughty Krishna dancing with young shepherdesses (the gopis) and hiding their clothes in a tree. Many of these episodes from Krishna's life are still being enacted all over northern India, at places where Krishna is especially venerated. This happens during the Ras Lila festival in late October / early November. It is actually very well possible that the panels of the exhibited Vrindavani Vastra were shown at this festival in Assam. But there are also representations of the other incarnations (avataras) of Vishnu, such as Rama, the hero from the famous epic of the Ramayana; the turtle who carries the world on his shell; the fish (matsya) that saved the first human meaning (Manu) in a true Noah-like fashion, and others. 

The exhibition also includes a beautiful eighteenth century coat from India, on loan from the Chepstow Museum in southeastern Wales. The coat is lined with a Vrindavani Vastra. It also shows scenes from Krishna's life, including his playing with the gopis.

The exhibition in the British Museum can be visited until 15 August. The exhibition is curatored by Richard Blurton, senior curator of the South Asia Collections of the BM, whom, it so happens, I first met, many years ago, at the British excavations of the old town of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. Richard also wrote a small booklet to accompany this wonderful exhibition.

Willem Vogelsang, 5 March 2016

   

Workshop Palestinian embroidery

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Karin Scheper's sample of Palestinian embroidery, made during the TRC workshop and finished at home.

Karin Scheper's sample of Palestinian embroidery, made during the TRC workshop and finished at home.

In the latest edition of the monthly TRC Wednesday morning workshop series, on the 24th of February, no less than twelve persons attended the workshop on Palestinian embroidery. Gillian (Vogelsang-Eastwood) introduced us to this specific needlework tradition with an informative and well illustrated PowerPoint, which provided a lot of historical background information and gave us insight in the regional varieties. In addition, there were plenty examples of textiles that we could touch and scrutinize, before we started on the making of our own samples. The tables with the laid out pieces of cloth, threads and designs were set amidst dressed mannequins, for further inspiration. As in the other workshops that I attended so far, participants could choose between the levels fairly simple, somewhat experienced and advanced, and all the materials to make our own samples were well prepared. For me, the goal of practicing is to obtain a better understanding of the materials and techniques, to try and learn things I didn’t know before, and quite simply to enjoy the textile artifacts. The easy-going atmosphere makes it all the more enjoyable, and so does the stimulating presence of the real artifacts and the presence of knowledge (and, as a bonus, we had the possibility of a sneak preview of the Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World!).

Karin Scheper, 29 February 2016

   

Hakama from Japan: An intriguing new acquisition for the TRC collection

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Women wearing red hakama at Shinto shrine

Women wearing red hakama at Shinto shrine

A few days ago the TRC was able to acquire a small collection of Japanese garments that used to belong to Dr Erika de Poorter, who was a specialist of the Japanese Noh theatre at Leiden University. Among the various kimonos, there was a special item, namely a divided skirt (hakama) in dark red silk. Hakama are still worn by men as part of the traditional outfit for special and formal occasions; the red cloth of our hakama, however, suggests that the trousers were made for a woman. Hakama are worn by musicians and stage attendants of the Noh theatre, but this is still very much a man’s world and it is not likely that Erika picked up her hakama in this context.

Female graduates wearing hakama, Japan

Female graduates wearing hakama, Japan

But women do wear hakama on certain occasions. Miko (Shinto shrine maidens) wear the same outfit as their male counterparts, but in different colours. Women who practice traditional martial arts, such as kendo and archery, also wear hakama, but usually in the ‘male’ grey, black or dark blue. Finally, hakama are worn by women at university graduation ceremonies, often with Victorian-style booties. When compulsory education was introduced in Japan at the end of the 19th century, boys were soon required to wear military-style uniforms. Girls, however, still wore kimono. Because this was far from practical, the hakama was introduced for them: it looked like a skirt, but offered pant-like functionality. The graduation hakama is a nostalgic reminder of these early days of female education.

Anna Beerens, 1 February 2016

 

 

 

 

 

   

Afghan football-star, a real one

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Murtaza Ahmadi with his Messi T-shirt. Photograph by his brother.

Murtaza Ahmadi with his Messi T-shirt. Photograph by his brother.

Believe it or not, I know just about nothing about football, apart from the scandals surounding this Swiss bloke and his cronies who seem to have made an awful lot of money out of a simple game. But I do follow the news about Afghanistan and this week there was something in the media that was really nice. A young boy in Ghazni province, not exactly the place to go on holiday, was photographed with a plastic bag as a T-shirt with written on it the name of Messi. Because of the Afghan boy I now know that Messi is a famous football player; I have no idea where and how, and when, but that does not matter. For the Afghan lad Messi is a star, and he is very proud of showing Messi's name. I think the boy is the real star. I understand he is only five years old. His 15-year old brother made him the T-shirt with the name of Messi written on it with a marker pen. Then the brother took a photograph and put it on Facebook. That was some two weeks ago. And that photograph went, as it is called, ' viral'. In the end it was the boy's uncle that recognised the boy. The uncle lives in Australia, another reminder of the Afghan diaspora and the fate of the Afghan people. It is a smile, in an otherwise desperate situation.

Willem Vogelsang, 31 January 2016

   

Embroidery stamps from Taiwan

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Embroidered Qing-period curtain, with postage stamp inserted. Taiwan, modern.

Embroidered Qing-period curtain, with postage stamp inserted. Taiwan, modern.

This morning I had the honour to welcome the new visiting professor in Taiwan Studies to the International Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden. We had a long chat, and at the end my Taiwanese guest and his wife gave me some little presents. When I opened one of them, it happened to be a booklet with a long and folded sheet of thin, gold painted paper, into which five postage stamps are marked out, dated to 2013. The sheet carries a reproduction of a Qing period curtain that is now housed in the National Museum of History, Taipei. The curtain is decorated with embroidery showing flowers and birds, against a background of rich red silk with more flowers, birds, grass, trees, clouds, rocks and other delicately embroidered motifs. It is regarded, according to the accompanying text, as one of the Qing Dynasty's greatest pieces of embroidered art.

This curtain is in reality almost five metres long. The composition centers on an eye-catching peacock. Called "Ode to the Great Earth", the theme of the curtain offers a colourful and beautiful vista of blooming flowers and brightly coloured birds, heralding the arrival of spring. Indeed, a worthy subject for embroidery, and for stamps!

Willem Vogelsang, 22 January 2016

   

Chester Cathedral

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Chester cathedral, embroidered hearse cloth

Chester cathedral, embroidered hearse cloth

Willem and I are in Chester, England, for a few days and could not resist going to the Cathedral, among others to see if they had any embroideries. They are there, but you need to search for them! There is a late 19th century central altar frontal (high altar) made from a cream damask ground with an art nouveau style design of three trees with intertwining grape vines, leaves and bunches of grapes, flanked by small bushes, possibly olive ones, but that was not clear. Tucked away in one corner (see photograph) is a 19th century hearse cloth with a blue silk damask ground, embroidered with couched gold thread (passings). The design is hard to see, as it has been placed on a wooden roller inside a wooden case, but there are bishop's crosier with what looks like a W alternating with lilies, as well as coats of arms.

In another part of the Cathedral there is an appliqué dedicated to the United Nations that is a commissoned piece dating to AD 2000. For the Christmas period there was an appliqué panel depicting the Chester Mystery Plays, a series of medieval plays based upon the life and death of Jesus Christ. In this case, it was the Chester series, depicted with buildings from the centre of the city. A bit of fun, and nicely done. There were also several large-scale, appliqué banners, depicting Mary and Child, as well as the the Creation (stars, birds and fishes).

Finally, in a chapel dedicated to the Cheshire regiments, there are a number of flags, with regimental honours. Some of the flags look as if they date from the early 19th century and were embroidered with the names of various battles. But they were so high up it was difficult to be sure.

But what about vestments? Alas nothing was on view, the various people we asked said: yes, there are vestments, but they were not sure what, where, or whether they were embroidered. A cathedral with the history of Chester's should have embroideries and vestments dating back several centuries, if not longer. I will be persuing this and trying to find out what they have. My curiosity has been piqued!! Chester beware.

Gillian Vogelsang, 2 January 2016

   

The curtains of the Sistine chapel in Rome

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Murals in the 4th century AD Romulus temple, Rome, representing long line of wall curtains. 13th century AD.

Murals in the 4th century AD Romulus temple, Rome, representing long line of wall curtains. 13th century AD.

Never thought I would ever get particularly interested in something as mundane as curtains, but right now, spending a week in Rome with Gillian, I am afraid I am starting to see curtains everywhere, or to be more precise, what I see all the time are paintings of curtains. Perhaps the moment has come to go back to Leiden. Anyhow, it all started some days ago when I saw some wall paintings, or at least fragments thereof, in the circular temple of Romulus (nota bene: not the Romulus of Remus fame, but an early 4th century AD son of a Roman emperor) at the Forum Romanum. The temple, as so many other ancient buildings in Rome, was later converted into (part of) a church, namely the basilica of Santi Cosma e Damiano. The frescoes I am alluding to once ran all along the lower part of the inside of the wall of the building, and represent a continuous line of curtains. The frescoes allegedly date to the thirteenth century, to the time of Pope Urbanus IV (1261-1264). The curtains, as can be seen from the photograph, are depicted as being tied at regular intervals around a (painted) beam above (hence the draped fold lines). The top of the depicted curtain has a thick band that is bejewelled. From this band hangs the wide curtain itself. The ground material of the curtain is in white, with three wide horizontal bands alternating with quatrefoils of various sizes.

Sistine chapel, Rome, showing paintings of curtains along the walls. Late 15th century.

Sistine chapel, Rome, showing paintings of curtains along the walls. Late 15th century.

With these curtains in mind, we visited the next morning the Sistine Chapel (together with tens of thousands of others, all at the same time, but at least we did not get a selfie-stick poked into our eyes). But instead of being awestruck again by the magnificent frescoes along the upper part of the walls and Michelangelo's masterpiece on the ceiling, I was suddenly made aware of ...... a line of curtains painted along the lower tier of the chapel's walls. I had never noticed them before. Did you? Some of them were shown as being draped, others were not. These paintings, I was told, date to the late fifteenth century and the time of Pope Sixtus IV. Most of them are damask-like with silver or gold thread decoration, others, without the emphasised fold lines, are shown flat with very little drape, imitating velvet.

And yesterday, in the Santa Maria Maggiore, I again saw the same feature, namely, a painted curtain, but this time on a wooden screen in one of the side chapels.

I am quite sure that art historians have written complete libraries on the subject of these paintings of curtains, hence my apologies, but I had never noticed them, although such painted curtains or draperies can probably be found in many other places. But what sort of nutter looks at paintings of curtains when there is so much else to admire? But in any case, what a treasure trove for further research into medieval textiles and their different types of decoration.

Willem Vogelsang, 26 December 2015

   

Yemeni embroidery workshop at the TRC

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On Saturday 19th December there was a Yemeni embroidery workshop at the TRC. Normally these workshops are on the last Wednesday of the month, but because of Christmas it was moved to the Saturday just before we closed for a few weeks over the holiday period (we re-open on the 11th January). This was also an open day at the TRC and literally, the last chance to see the colourful, Yemeni clothing and jewellery exhibition. The workshop was led by myself and consisted of a guide tour of the exhibition about Yemeni embroidered garments and jewellery, and concentrated on the decorative needlework aspects. This was then followed by the participants of the workshop trying out a range of embroidery stitches and motifs all based on blanket and chain stitches. All of these forms can be found back in Saudi Arabian and Yemeni garments. The final section of day involved looking at one particular garment and then reproducing various patterns and motifs on black cotton cloth using a thick, white cotton thread. Something that was totally new for the participants. The time went very quickly indeed. The workshop was immediately followed the TRC’s Christmas party (members of the workshop were also invited!), which gave us the chance to relax, talk with good friends, eat good food surrounded by amazing textiles and garments. What a wonderful way to end a very busy year!

Gillian Vogelsang, 20 December 2015

   

An ancient Egyptian clothing trip to University College London

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Just had an exciting few days at University College London (UCL) and the nearby Petrie Museum. Friday 11th December consisted of a special workshop held in the Institute of Archaeology, UCL. The theme of the workshop was needlework in ancient Egypt. It was organised by Dr. Jan Picton of the Petrie Museum and led by myself. There was the chance to try out different seams and hems, mending, patching, as well as Egyptian and Mitanni style embroidery. In the afternoon, there was the chance to see various items of textile equipment and textiles now in the Petrie Museum, a teaching museum in the middle of the UCL, which has an amazing collection of antiquities from Egypt. The collection, as the name suggests, was built up by the early 20th century Egyptologist, Sir Flinders Petrie. The visit to the museum was followed by a workshop on appliqué techniques from ancient Egypt. There were fourteen participants at the workshop, which meant that those attending could ask many questions and have personal attention. It was great fun in other words. This workshop will form the basis for an Ancient Egyptian Sewing Bee that will be held at the TRC on Saturday 9th April (see here for more details).

The following day was again at the UCL and consisted of a full day about textiles and clothing in ancient Egypt. It went by the eye-catching title Tutankhamun’s Knickers and other Knotty Problems. Again the day was organised by Jan Picton and members of the Friends of the Petrie Museum. The day was divided into several sections, including a starting lecture about the production of textiles in ancient Egypt (myself), followed by a lecture on the textiles from the royal palace site of Gurob (Jan Picton). The morning was finished with a demonstration of various types of clothing worn in ancient Egypt (daily life garments by Janet Johnstone, and Tutankhamun’s royal clothing by myself). The afternoon then continued with a lecture on Tutankhamun’s clothing (again by myself) and ended with a lecture about draped and wrapped garments from ancient Egypt by Janet. There were many questions at the end of the day.

All in all a very pleasant and stimulating few days and I would like to thank Jan Picton and the Petrie Museum for inviting me to come to London to give these workshops/lectures. I really enjoyed myself meeting colleagues, talking about ancient Egyptian textiles and dress and hearing about new finds and ideas.

Gillian Vogelsang, 20 December 2015

   

The Fabric of India Exhibition, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

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The tent of Tipu Sultan, India, late 18th century. From: http://blog.toryburch.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Blog_10.6_FabricsOfIndia_960_8.jpg

The tent of Tipu Sultan, India, late 18th century. From: http://blog.toryburch.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Blog_10.6_FabricsOfIndia_960_8.jpg

Last Sunday, 13th December, Gillian and I visited a marvellous exhibition in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, that focused on handmade textiles and their production in the Indian subcontinent. And what we saw was more than the occasional sari ! The exhibition not only includes gorgeous examples of silk, cotton and woollen textiles and garments, often beautifully decorated, but also tells about technical details, as for instance the dyeing processes of the yarns and cloths, the weaving techniques that were used, the methods of decorating, and so forth. On display are garments from the Mughal period, but also medieval Indian textiles that were found in Egypt. Very spectacular is a tent that was used by Tipu Sultan, the Mysore leader defeated by the British in AD 1799. Something else that struck me was a copy of one of the 18 volumes of Sir John Forbes Watson's Collections of the Textile Manufactures of India (London, 1866). A brief entry to this remarkable publication, that includes actual samples of Indian textiles, is contained in TRC Needles (click here). Modern examples of Indian textile production, and the use made by modern Indian couturiers, are also displayed. In short, the exhibition provides a wealth of information, shows splendid textiles and garments, and is beautifully displayed. You can still go and see it, until 10th January. For more info, click here.

Willem Vogelsang, 15th December 2015

   

Coptic textiles from Egypt

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The last few days have been spent in Antwerp attending the 9th Textiles from the Nile Valley conference (27-28 November 2015) at the Katoen Natie Museum, Antwerp, Belgium. This is a biennial event that brings together specialists in many different fields, but all connected by their scholarly interest in the early history of Egyptian textiles. The range of papers presented was equally diverse and included excavation reports, particular textiles of note, art historical comparisons, museum collections, and the work of various people in the past, notably Louise Bellinger, a grand dame of textiles from the 1940s and 50s. Most of the papers referred to textiles from the first millennium AD, and in particular those linked to the Coptic period.

There was also a fascinating example of why replicas are important, both in terms of learning how they are made and how they are worn, namely in the form of a sprang cap that was re-created during the re-cataloguing of part of the Louvre Museums collection of Egyptian textiles. This talk (with practical demonstration) came shortly after a fascinating discussion about the history of nålebinding in Egypt and the making and repairing of socks made in this manner. Both of these talks stressed the importance of non-woven forms of decorative textiles within the textile repertoire of Egypt. Something that tends to be lost among the vast numbers of decorative woven forms, notably the so-called Coptic tapestries.

As with all conferences it was the chance to meet 'old' colleagues, as well as new ones, which played an important role in the event. It is good to know that there are so many students working at various levels who are opening up new areas of research within the field of Egyptian textiles. The conference papers are regularly published in a series of well illustrated volumes that are available from the Katoen Natie web shop. These are well worth having for the range of information presented in a 'proper' book form. A big thanks goes to both the staff of Katoen Natie, and Caroline Dekyndt and Cäcilia Fluck in particular for their organisation of such a pleasant, informative and inspiring weekend.

1 December 2015, Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood

   

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