TRC Blog: Textile Moments

A trip to southern Germany, continued

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The Sternenmantel of Henry II, early 11th century. Bamberg.

The Sternenmantel of Henry II, early 11th century. Bamberg.

Today, Saturday 11 June, we travelled to Bamberg, a large, medieval city in southern Germany, about two hours by train from Regensburg. Here we went straight to the Diözesanmuseum in order to see the mantles and other garments associated with the Holy Roman Emperor Henry (Heinrich) II and his wife, St. Kunigunde. They reigned in the early eleventh century. The museum also houses various papal garments associated with Pope Clement II who died in 1047 (his tomb is the only papal burial north of the Alps).

On display in a separate room in the museum there are three mantles and one cope (called a pluvale here in Germany), all related to Henry II and his wife, Kunigunde. These are the famous Sternenmantelthe so-called Knights mantle (Rittermantel), the Great Mantle of St. Kunigunde, and the Cope of St. Kunigunde. The same room also contains a bell-shaped chasuble and a tunic especially associated with St. Kunigunde. All the garments date to the early eleventh century, although they have been heavily restored over the centuries.

To actually go and see the Sternenmantel, as well as St. Kunigunde's Great Mantle, and the Knights mantle was something we had wanted to do for several years, and it was well worth it. The silk and gold thread embroidery is spectacular.

The Clement items, which were recovered from his sarcophagus in 1942, included various silk, silk damask as well as other woven textiles, such as a pair of stockings (better: buskins) made from a very fine damask silk, and a large, pontifical dalmatic. Many of these silks have been given a Byzantine origin.

And of course in the Bamburg treasury is the famous Byzantine wall hanging depicting two women flanking an emperor on horseback, which also comes from the tomb of Clement. The Bamburg museum also contains liturgical vestments from various periods, as well as an amazing collection of medieval wood and stone sculptures, wood carvings in general and metal items such as reliquies and items for on the alter. Well worth a visit.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 11 June 2016

   

A trip to southern Germany

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The imaginary portrait of Charlemagne, by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg.

The imaginary portrait of Charlemagne, by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg.

Willem and I are on our travels again, this time to southern Germany. We spent yesterday (Thursday) in Nuremberg, notably at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum. They have a wonderful collection of medieval and later sculptures and paintings. Among them is Albrecht Dürer's imaginary painting of Charlemagne, wearing the regalia of the Holy (German) Roman Emperor. He is thus seen wearing the famous mantle of Roger II of Sicily from the early twelfth century, together with the imperial gloves, the beautifully decorated stola and the red (?) tunic with the imperial eagles. All of these items are, so it would appear, now in the Kaiserliche Schatzkammer in Vienna, where we were so fortunate to see them two years ago. Seeing the painting by Dürer and realising that it most probably shows centuries-old imperial garments that are actually still extant and can still be admired, is a real confrontation with history. 

In addition, the museum has a special, very large gallery dedicated to German (and some Dutch) urban and regional dress, including male and female underwear. You don't see that very often in museums! Finally someone who has taken this part of dress seriously. Also lots of sports clothes, headgear and footwear. Well worth a visit to Nuremberg to see the gallery. In addition, according to the museum's website, they have an active team working on cataloguing and making available their extensive textile, clothing and jewellery collection. It is a site worth watching at regular intervals to see what is happening.

Today, Friday 9th June, is being spent in Regensburg, about one hour by (fast) train to the south of Nuremberg. The cathedral is a great, Gothic building with a small museum filled with liturgical garments dating from the eleventh century onwards, including many items of embroidery, notably a bishop's mitre and gloves, chasubles, dalmaticas as well as copes and cope hoods. There is a fifteenth century cope, for example, that has much earlier (tenth century) gold thread embroidery. There is alse a chasuble that has an early gold thread orphrey, whereby the background is worked in swirls of couched gold. It is said to come from Regensburg itself and is certainly very different in appearance and techniques from its northern counterparts.

This afternoon, while Willem has some University business to attend to, is being spent looking at a more modern tradition, namely Bavarian regional dress. There are at least three shops in walking distance of the cathedral that sell regional dress for men and women, and it remains a living tradition. This morning we saw a wedding party near the cathedral and several women were wearing the Dirndle outfit (blouse, waistcoat, skirt, apron) outfit, as well as men in embroidered lederhosen. There was also one shop that had a bridal version of the Dirndle outfit. I have never been that interested in German regional dress, but thanks to the TRC being given the Kircher Collection (with hundreds of items of German regional clothing) some months ago, it is something I am now looking at and becoming aware of what a diverse world it is.

This feeling intensified later in the afternoon when I went to the Historisches Museum Regensburg. Although I did not have an appointment I was able to talk with one of the staff about German regional dress and the TRC's problem of how to identify some of the unlabelled items from the Kircher Collection. Help was immediately offered! We are also going to talk about how the two institutes can work together with respect to exhibitions and research. By coincidence the museum also had on display an exhibition, called Heimat auf der Haut -Tracht in der Operpfalz, which is about nineteenth century regional dress from the Oberpflaz region of Germay. So we had an interesting time looking at the garments together and discussing their origins, uses, embroidery forms, etc. The exhibition runs until the beginning of July and is well worth seeing. There is also a catalogue to the exhibition, which will be discussed in the next, Books Showcased (June 2016) item of the TRC website. Tomorrow we are going to Bamburg to see some more medieval textiles and garments!

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 10 June 2016

   

Duct tape dresses

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Duct tape dress. TRC collection.

Duct tape dress. TRC collection.

I’ve heard of textiles grown in test tubes from genetically engineered bacteria, and of clothing made from recycled plastic or even rare spiders’ silk. But it took my 17 year-old niece in America to teach me about a textile made from a material most commonly found in tool boxes. I’m talking duct tape. That grey-coloured industrial tape you use to wrap around a frayed electrical cord or to fix a broken lawn chair.

For several years teenagers in the States have been making party clothes out of duct tape. My niece has donated one such dress she made to the TRC, where it’s now on display. She wore the dress in May 2014 to an annual Duct Tape Costume Ball, organized by an educational programme called Destination Imagination. The event made the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest gathering (with 752 participants) of people wearing duct tape yet. The garment is made from a sleeveless dress found in a second hand shop and several rolls of duct tape. The top of the dress is a synthetic fabric covered in sequins, while the attached skirt is made from gold-coloured duct tape with a deliberately uneven hem. The duct tape makes the skirt somewhat stiff and heavy to wear, but the dress as a whole looks actually fashionable.

A Google search for “duct tape clothes” revealed over 650000 items, plus countless photographs and videos. The creativity shown is wonderfully surprising: from tuxedos and floor-length gowns to characters from popular movies (my personal favourite: a young woman dressed as the Death Star spaceship from the Star Wars film, accompanied by a Jedi Knight). There are tutorials in how to make duct tape dresses, and accessories such as corsages, bow ties, clutch bags and belts. Sewers are also using duct tape to make tailor-made mannequins and dress stands. The model, in bra and T-shirt, is wrapped in duct tape. When the ensemble is taken off, you have a mannequin with the right measurements to work from.

Making your own clothes from duct tape has also led to another phenomenon: the ABC party. ABC stands for “anything but clothes”. In other words, no textiles of cotton or synthetics, but more non-traditional materials. YouTube also has hundreds of videos of people making clothes out of playing cards or loofahs or, of course, duct tape. Duct tape manufacturers such as 3M and Shurtech Brands have capitalized on this trend. Not only is duct tape now manufactured in a wide range of colours and motifs; businesses are also organizing competitions for the most original or colourful duct tape garment, with cash prizes and scholarships for the winners. While I doubt duct tape will be the textile of the future, I do applaud the creativity and sense of fun people like my niece are showing in exploring new materials.

Shelley Anderson, 29 May 2016

   

Textile Museum Lyon, France

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Portrait of Jacquard woven in silk on a Jacquard loom (1839). The portrait requires 24000 punch cards to weave.

Portrait of Jacquard woven in silk on a Jacquard loom (1839). The portrait requires 24000 punch cards to weave.

Yesterday, 21 May, a meeting of the European Alliance for Asian Studies brought me to Lyon in France and I had the chance to visit the world famous textile museum, or better the Musée des Tissus et des Arts décoratifs. Last year plans were circulating to close down the museum because no new funding could be found, but these plans seem to have been shelved.

The museum and the textiles that are exhibited are fabulous. One of the larger rooms contains a group of beautiful late 17th century tapestries, and the easy chairs that are placed opposite them invite people to sit down and look at these huge pieces at length. Lyon is, of course, famous for its silk and textile industry, and the development, in the early 19th century, of the Jacquard loom, a beautiful example of which is placed in the museum. Even after so many years it remains a marvellous piece of engineering. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the principle of the Jacquard loom, it is a mechanical instrument that is driven by cards with holes punched into them, each card determining one  row (throw) of the woven textile. Joseph Marie Jacquard (1752-1834) did not devise this loom out of nothing; he built upon earlier inventions and innovations. He became especially famous when a few years after his death a portrait of his was 'punched' and woven to order. 

The museum itself is housed in the beautiful 18th century Hôtel de Villeroy, which was the residence of the governor of Lyon in the 18th century. 

Willem Vogelsang, 22 May 2016

   

Tutankhamun

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Mamdouh al-Damati, former antiquities minister of Egypt, speaks at the Tutankhamun Grand Egyptian Museum, 8 May 2016.

Mamdouh al-Damati, former antiquities minister of Egypt, speaks at the Tutankhamun Grand Egyptian Museum, 8 May 2016.

The last few days have been spent in Cairo. I was invited to attend the 2nd Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) conference about Tutankhamun and to give a lecture about the embroidered and beaded garments from the tomb of the young king. Prof. Olaf Kaper (Leiden University) and I gave lectures on different aspects of the textiles and garments associated with Tutankhamun. There were also other lectures about the textiles, notably by Issam Ezzat, Hamza Nagm and Mie Ishii, who all discussed different aspects of the conservation of the textiles. There was also a very interesting talk by Christian Eckman on the damage and repair of the golden mask. And Jan Picton (UCL London) talked about the textiles from Gurob and how some of the 'missing' garments of Tutankhamun may have looked like.

The second day of the conference was dedicated to jewellery and other items from the tomb, such as the wide variety of plants. The third day was full of fireworks as it included Nicholas Reeves and Zahi Hawas (who was in combative mood). The basic upshot was that there is no conclusive evidence that there are more rooms associated with the tomb of Tutankhamun.

Yesterday, Monday, was spent looking at some textiles and talking with colleagues at GEM, and then a visit to the Egyptian Museum to look at the Tutankhamun textiles still on display there and to talk with conservation staff about their work. Most enjoyable, and it meant I had time to look at certain textiles in detail to check facts, confirm the (minute) size of the glass beads used for various garments and to ponder how to make replica garments, and indeed that always presents the question how to pay for them (a team of specialist weavers, embroiderers, etc is already in place). There then followed a short interlude in the academic thought process via an ice cold hibiscus drink in the garden of the Marriott hotel on Zamalek (as I said life can be so hard).

Today I go back to the Egyptian Museum to check even more details about the Tut textiles and to give a talk to the conservation staff about the Tutankhamun textiles and garments in general. And then a wander around the museum to look at some more textiles and beaded garments. Later in the day I will see a friend in Cairo who has the most amazing collection of Egyptian regional dress dating from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 10 May 2016

   

Diversity and Quality of the TRC Collection

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The recent donation of a large collection of European traditional dress means that the TRC Collection is growing more rapidly than expected. So for the last few months we have been looking at what we have, what we are doing and where do we want to go. The TRC Collection now includes items from about 135 countries. Since July 2011 there are officially 195 independent sovereign states in the world, with about 60 dependent areas and five disputed territories (such as Kosovo). So the TRC Collection is beginning to truly reflect the diversity of the world of textiles and traditional dress.

The further expansion of the TRC Collection is now going to be directed, even more than before, on quality and on building up the depth of the collection, in order to reflect life in its many varied aspects, including items for men, women and children (some people think our collection is just made up of women’s clothing, which is simply not the case). This would mean that more items will be available during the courses, lectures and workshops for people to see and in some cases handle, and  we would have more material available for research.

To help people understand the diversity of the TRC Collection, the database of the collection has gone online on the 1st July 2016. Not every item is described in great detail (there are over 19500 items after all, by March 2018), nor are there photographs of everything. But every week new details and images are added and after four years, all items will be fully described and provided with one or more photographs. Exciting days ahead as the TRC truly goes international. For the digital catalogue, click here. For a more detailed introduction to the collection, click here.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, director TRC

   

Afghan 'Messi' has fled with his family to Pakistan

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On 31 January, I reported on a young Afghan boy who rose to global stardom when he was photographed by his brother wearing a plastic bag as a T-shirt with the name of Messi written on it by a ballpoint. The BBC just reported that he and his family have fled to Pakistan, after threats by local criminals who demanded money from the 'famous' family. The boy, Murtaza Ahmadi, and seven of his kin now live in one room in Quetta.

Willem Vogelsang, 3 May 2016

   

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

   

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