TRC Blog: Textile Moments

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

   

An ISIS follower with a disputable bit of headgear

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Photograph of Abdelhamid Abu Oud, wearing a pakol.

Photograph of Abdelhamid Abu Oud, wearing a pakol.

Following the horrific attacks in Paris last week Friday, photographs were published in the media of the alleged ring-leader, someone called Abdelhamid Abu Oud, of Belgian/Moroccan origins. He seems to have been killed by the French police, last Wednesday in Saint-Denis. What struck me, when looking at some of the photographs of him taken in Syria or Iraq in the company of his ISIS friends, was his headgear. He is shown wearing a pakol, which is a cap with a rolled brim. It has an interesting history in the Afghanistan/Pakistan borderlands, a background which is not really in line with Abdelhamid's radical beliefs. But I am sure he had no idea.

 

Ahmad Shah Massud, wearing a pakol, killed on 9 September 2001 by (apparently) Moroccan followers of Osama bin Laden, carrying Belgian passports.

Ahmad Shah Massud, wearing a pakol, killed on 9 September 2001 by (apparently) Moroccan followers of Osama bin Laden, carrying Belgian passports.

Because of its likeness to the typical headgear of the ancient Macedonians, the pakol has actually often been described as a relic of the distant past, which was allegedly brought to the East by the soldiers of Alexander the Great. The idea is not as weird as it sounds, since many leaders in this part of the world used to tell the British conquerors that they descended from the terrible Alexander. Actually, Marco Polo who may have crossed these lands in the late 13th century, mentions the same thing.

But fortunately for the ISIS adherents, the cap does not have a western origin. The pakol was first introduced in Afghanistan among the Nuristanis, in the late 19th or early 20th centuries. Nuristan is a mountainous and very secluded part of Afghanistan, in the extreme east of the country, northeast of the capital Kabul. The pakol cap derived from the mountain valleys in the extreme north of neighbouring Pakistan. It soon became the 'national' dress of the people of Nuristan (who converted to Islam, not entirely voluntarily, after 1896 when they were subdued by the Afghan amir). The pakol, which basically is a tube of wool that is rolled up around the head, was later also adopted by many Westerners working in the 'golden age' of Afghanistan, in the 1960s, and also among the Tajiki people living in the Panjshir valley north of Nuristan.

When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan at Christmas 1979, and a wide-spread revolt broke out all over the country, the people of the Panjshir took a leading role under Ahmad Shah Massud, who became an iconic leader of the Afghan resistance, the so-called Mujahedin. His headgear, the pakol, was subsequently adopted by many of the (young) Afghans of all ethnic backgrounds, all over the country, who were fighting the communist regime and the Red army (I donned it as well when I walked around there with the Mujahedin in the 1980s, so much easier to put on than the turban). Among many of the (young) Pashtuns, the dominant ethnic group of Afghanistan, the pakol slowly replaced the turban, as it also did among the Pashtuns living in neighbouring Pakistan.

Now when the ultra-conservative Taliban in Afghanistan, most of whom were Pashtuns, overran the country after 1994, their fiercest Afghan opponents were the non-Pashtuns in the north of the country, among whom the Panjshiris under Ahmad Shah Massud (he was eventually killed two days before 9/11 in a suicide attack by some (apparent) Moroccans with a Belgian passport....). The Panjshiris, who live just north of Nuristan, and many of their allies, were still wearing the pakol; the Taliban thereupon 'adviced' their Pashtun followers to stick to the turban. Actually, in many places, including Kabul, the wearing of a pakol was forbidden when the Taliban were controlling the town between 1996 and 2001. This only changed again when in late 2001 the Taliban were defeated, and people in Kabul in large numbers started wearing a pakol again, discarding the turban (and shaving off their beards).

And now I see an ISIS follower in the Middle East wearing the pakol ! Abdelhamid is unlikely to have had any knowledge of the history of his headgear, but he may not have liked the idea that the Taliban in Afghanistan regarded the pakol as the typical cap worn by their Western-supported opponents. Beware what you wear.

Willem Vogelsang, 19 November 2015

   

A dress from Socotra

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HELP!

A dress from Socotra, Yemen. TRC collection

A dress from Socotra, Yemen. TRC collection

A friend of the TRC came to see the current exhibition about Yemeni garments and jewellery. In addition, she came with three dresses and a child’s cap from Yemen as a gift for the TRC. One of the dresses in particular is special. It comes from the island of Socotra, which lies several hundred kms south of Aden. The garment comes from the city of Hadibu. It was acquired in 2006 actually on the island by the donor and her husband. The dress is made of green satin and decorated with broad, silver coloured bands. The garment reaches to just above the knees, but it has a very long train, and our question is HOW WAS IT WORN?

My first reaction was to have the train at the back; it could then be lifted as a headcovering, but I was told that by the donor this was wrong. So how was it worn? Another possiblity was that the train could be wrapped around the lower body to make a skirt, but how was it fixed in place? A telephone call to her husband led to the information that the train was at the front of the garment, and that it went between the legs to create a pair of very loose, knee-high ‘trousers.’ The rest of the train was placed over the right shoulder. Is this correct? We would like to find photographs of women wearing this type of garment to confirm all the details, or better still someone who has worn such a garment or knows it well, so that we can drape it correctly.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 4 November 2015

   

Visiting the Silk Road II

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The Famen pagoda, south of Xi'an, China. Photograph Shelley Anderson

The Famen pagoda, south of Xi'an, China. Photograph Shelley Anderson

TRC volunteer Shelley Anderson continues her blog about her recent visit to China and the Silk Road: Famen Temple lies some 100 kilometres outside the busy city of Xi’an, China. It is a huge complex of modern-day Buddhist temples, a college and conference centre. It also includes a restored ancient pagoda, or Buddhist temple, that was first founded during the Eastern Han dynasty (25-220 CE). This pagoda has been destroyed and rebuilt many times in its history. During the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE) it enjoyed royal patronage, as the imperial capital was based in Chang’an, now modern-day Xi’an. Chang’an is considered the starting point westward for the Silk Road, where the huge international trading network for textiles, especially silk, and other valuable commodities began their journeys to India, Persia, Damascus and Rome. Thanks in no small part to this trade, China during the Tang dynasty was one of the most powerful and richest countries on earth.

A chance discovery in the ancient Famen pagoda helps to illustrate just how wealthy the kingdom was. In April 1987, during the pagoda’s rebuilding, a remarkable archaeological discovery was made. A forgotten underground chamber was discovered, full of Tang-era treasures, including glassware imported from the Middle East, over 100 gold and silver objects — and over 700 silk textiles. Many of the textiles had been folded and bundled together. Due to the damp inside the stone chambers, the textiles in the outer layers were decomposing and in very poor condition. There were damasks, leno, gauzes, brocades, plain silks and embroideries, all over 1,000 years old. A small silk blouse (6.5 cm in length, with 4.1 cm long sleeves), made to adorn a statue, was found with couched gold embroidery. The average diameter of the gold thread (made of extremely fine gold foil, wrapped around silk fibres) was 0.1 mm.

Also discovered was the reason for the collection of goods. A relic, a finger bone of the Buddha, was discovered in a niche in the last chamber. The bone was found inside a series of nested boxes, the last a small box of white jade. There were traces of gold thread from the embroidered silk cloth the box had been wrapped in. The rich goods were all offerings by worshippers to the Buddha, in order to ensure good luck and to gain merit for future lives. Two stone steles were also in the chambers, one of which was an inventory with a list of all the textiles, their names and weight, and the names of their donors on it.

The silks can be divided roughly into two categories: silk garments that had been offered by members of the imperial court (including an embroidered skirt given by the Empress Wu Zetian [624-705 CE], China’s only female ruler), and silks used to wrap other precious objects. Some of the silk fragments and other artifacts are on display at the nearby Famen Pagoda Museum. The bundles, however, are still being separated, layer by layer, at the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology.

It was a privilege to meet Associate Researcher Lu Zhiyong, head of the Institute’s Scientific Research Management Department, in a special laboratory for the silks built in collaboration with a German institute. “This is a unique case,” he said of the find. “The textiles were folded layer on layer and were most tightly packed. Our first job was to refrigerate the silks, to preserve them and to deal with a heavy mould problem. There were gold threads, samite, twills and tabbies. There were also a leather boot and lots of coins. We tried to X-ray the bundle but it was too thick—only the boot or coins or bamboo could be seen. So there was no new information from that.”

According to the stone stele, the Buddha relic was removed from the chamber every thirty years and taken by ceremonial procession to Chang’an. On its three-day journey back to the pagoda, offerings were presented. People were probably still trying to catch glimpses of the relic as the chamber was being shut. Many coins were found just inside the sealed chamber, possibly thrown in by poorer people who could not afford to offer textiles, Lu explained. All the textiles seem to date to the same period in the 9th century. “The chamber was last closed in the year 874. We don’t know why. There have been surprises: some of the cloth is printed, not embroidered. The textiles include early examples of the use of gold thread in weaving. There is a very early example of silver thread, too. The silver thread has a paper substrate. We have found socks, trousers, a skirt, a hat — these are high quality textiles, that all belonged to the Emperor’s family.” The silks used to wrap other objects are “not as high quality as the costumes,” Lu said. One such wrapper, used to cover a sutra (Buddhist scripture), was a silk gauze with a silk floss embroidered phoenix outlined in couched silver thread. Lu and a German colleague use flat Teflon sticks in the slow task of separating the layers. No chemicals are used. If they find they cannot separate a layer “we stop. We focus on climate control, on conserving the textiles and we wait for new techniques. I don’t do this work just for me but for other generations.”

Shelley Anderson, 1 November 2015

   

Visiting the Silk Road I

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Banner for the conference "Silks from the Silk Road". Photograph: Shelley Anderson

Banner for the conference "Silks from the Silk Road". Photograph: Shelley Anderson

TRC volunteer Shelley Anderson writes: There were many textile moments on a recent visit to China, where I attended the symposium “Silks from the Silk Road: Origin, Transmission and Exchange”, organized by the China National Silk Museum in collaboration with, among others, the Danish National Research Foundation’s Centre for Textile Research (CTR). The symposium opened with a weaver weaving damask silk on a large hook-shaft pattern loom, with a connecting rod. This sophisticated loom was built based on the remains of four model looms, made from wood and bamboo, uncovered in a Chinese tomb in 2012. This remarkable discovery included baskets of silk threads and dyes, and several wooden figurines that represent weavers. The artifacts have been dated to the Han dynasty, or late second century BCE. It’s a “truly exceptional” find, said CTR Director Marie-Louise Nosch. “It’s unique because finding organic matter so well preserved is rare. It bridges many gaps in our knowledge, as until now we did not know what type of looms were used. This shows the high technology of Han China, and will become a landmark in archaeology and textile research.”

Beautiful examples of silk fragments and textile tools were also on display in a special exhibition in the West Lake Museum (Hangzhou, China), where the symposium took place. Silk was a vital part of early Chinese economy, and the economies of other cultures that lived along the Silk Road. It was durable and light-weight, unlike dried fruits or gold, which were also traded up and down the Silk Road, along with jade, furs, spices and other commodities. You could buy camels, horses, slaves or servants with bolts of silk; soldiers’ salaries were paid in silk and debts settled with the textile.

One highlight of the exhibition for me was Yingpan Man. This richly dressed corpse was discovered in the abandoned city of Yingpan in 1995. Yingpan was an important Silk Road trading centre until it was destroyed by Genghis Khan’s troops. The arid desert atmosphere mummified the corpse and preserved the textiles he was buried in. And what textiles they are! He has a long double weave red woolen robe over purple silk trousers, another light yellow silk robe, and felt socks. He wears a funerary mask with a gold diadem, and a miniature silk caftan of embroidered damask silk had been placed on his chest. The motif of his red robe (of bulls and naked putti) leads some scholars to believe it was produced in the eastern part of the Roman empire. DNA tests, his brown hair and height (he is over six feet tall), and the non-Han Chinese custom of a funerary mask, point to European ancestry.

Shelley Anderson, 30 October 2015

   

The Mayflower, Loara Standish, and the City of Leiden

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Monument in Leiden along the Vliet, marking embarkation point of the Pilgrim Fathers leaving Leiden for Plymouth, and hence to America, in 1620.

Monument in Leiden along the Vliet, marking embarkation point of the Pilgrim Fathers leaving Leiden for Plymouth, and hence to America, in 1620.

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

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

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

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

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

Willem Vogelsang, 28 October 2015

   

Embroidered postcards from World War I

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Part of a sheet with embroidered designs waiting to be cut out for the WW I postcards. The war ended in November 1918, before these designs (dated 1919) could be used. TRC collection

Part of a sheet with embroidered designs waiting to be cut out for the WW I postcards. The war ended in November 1918, before these designs (dated 1919) could be used. TRC collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digital source, click here

Videos showing early hand-embroidery machines in use:

Gillian Vogelsang, 18 October 2015

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

   

Arpilleras from Chile

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Example of an arpillera

Example of an arpillera

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

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

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

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

Shelley Anderson, 28 September 2015

   

Nederlands Forensisch Instituut

Gepolariseerde foto van hempvezels.

Gepolariseerde foto van hempvezels.

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

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

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

26 september 2015

 

   

Chiné à la Branche versus Chiné à la Chaîne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Available at:

Gillian Vogelsang, 22 September 2015

   

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Financiële giften

The TRC is afhankelijk van project-financiering en privé-donaties. Al ons werk wordt verricht door vrijwilligers. Ter ondersteuning van de vele activiteiten van het TRC vragen wij U daarom om financiële steunGiften kunt U overmaken op bankrekeningnummer NL39 INGB 000 298 2359, t.n.v. Stichting Textile Research Centre. Omdat het TRC officieel is erkend als een Algemeen Nut Beogende Instelling (ANBI), en daarbij ook nog als een Culturele Instelling, zijn particuliere giften voor 125% aftrekbaar van de belasting, en voor bedrijven zelfs voor 150%. Voor meer informatie, klik hierVoor het overmaken van giften, kunt U ook gebruik maken van Paypal: