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Embroidered rank badge from 19th century China (TRC 2010.0139b).Embroidered rank badge from 19th century China (TRC 2010.0139b).As some of you will know I am working on a history of embroidery from around the world for a Bloomsbury (London-based publishers) series of encyclopaedia. The first volume came out in 2016 and at least five more are coming. Throughout the recent conference in Hangzhou (click here) about handlooms and textiles I have been talking with a lot of people about - embroidery.

On various occasions I was able talk about the TRC’s series of encyclopaedias. I had a wonderful opportunity to talk to curators, historians, collectors and dealers about embroidery and the role of this important textile technique. During the conference, I was also able to spend time with one of the conference speakers and his wife. She is a specialist in Chinese minority embroidery. It is thanks to them I am gaining a knowledge of minority forms by being able to handle recently acquired examples, especially from among the Deng, Miao and Yunnan. More on this subject to come!

I have been able to discuss with Eve Anderson, Director of the Centre for Textile Research, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, for example, about the Encylopedia of Embroidery and she has offered help with the research for the archaeological evidence for embroidery in Scandinavia and in preparing the table of contents for the volume on Scandinavian and West European embroidery (vol. 3 in the series).

I also have had the chance to talk with people living in Laos, Indonesia, as well as China, about the 4th volume in the series and everyone has offered help in some manner. It’s been a fascinating time and it was made very clear just how many different types there are, the range of techniques and designs, and the versatility of the subject with respect to East Asia.

I spent a very enjoyable last day in China looking at archaeological examples of Chinese embroidery that are on display in the National Silk Museum. Basically it is going to be an amazing few years putting the East Asian volume of the Bloomsbury Encyclopeadia together.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, Thursday 7th June 2018.


Zilu loom for taqueté floor coverings, Iran. National Silk Museum, Hangzhou, China. Photograph: Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood.Zilu loom for taqueté floor coverings, Iran. National Silk Museum, Hangzhou, China. Photograph: Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood.I am just home from a conference about handlooms held at the National Silk Museum in Hangzhou, China, and what a conference it has been! I am so glad that I went. I was there to give a paper on the history of zilu weaving in Iran (and added a piece about taqueté in Egypt for good measure) and to work with the zilu weaver who came especialy from Iran for the conference. In addition, the TRC had donated a large zilu floor covering from Meybod, Iran, which was put on display in the exhibition. It let the visitors see and understand just how large a zilu loom could actually be.

The conference accompanied an exhibition about handlooms from around the world and for the next two months it is possible to see and come very close to a wide variety of forms. I would make a plea at this moment to larger museums interested in textiles to see if they could borrow this exhibition and the looms. It would be well worth it.

What made the whole conference and exhibition so interesting is that the Museum brought over to China a number of professional handloom weavers – to talk about and demonstrate their looms. Suddenly things that I had read about in books and articles or seen in films and photographs made sense. I had several ‘Oh so that is how it works’ moments. And I was not the only one.



Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, director of the TRC, writes about special attention being paid to the Sudanese /Nubian collection at the TRC:

This week we have been very busy with a special section of the TRC Collection. It all started with a visit for four days by Magdalena Woźniak, a Marie Curie Fellow from the Polish Academy of Sciences. She is an archaeologist working on Nubian textiles and dress, from the north of Sudan, Africa (and also someone who came on the TRC 5-day textile course in 2015).

Woman's coat from Jordan, 1920's, made of ikat cloth (TRC 2005.0076).Woman's coat from Jordan, 1920's, made of ikat cloth (TRC 2005.0076).Among the many items belonging to the English textile archaeologist Grace Crowfoot (1879-1957) now in the TRC Collection Leiden, are a few objects relating to the production of tarbit (ikat) in Aleppo, Syria. In particular there is a letter that describes some of the relevant processes in Aleppo in 1939.

Ikat is a general term for a form of resist dyeing technique, in which the warp and/weft threads are coloured prior to the weaving of the cloth. In Syria it is known as tarbit. There has been a trade in the production of tarbit in Aleppo and surrounding regions for hundreds of years.

In order to produce ikat, groups of threads are being tightly bound together in a specific order to create the desired design. By repeatedly binding, dyeing, rebinding, dyeing, and so forth, it is possible to create a range of patterns. Tarbit from Syria often take the form of silk striped cloth and checked cotton forms. Where a silk or artificial silk warp is used together with cotton wefts, then this type of cloth is known as qutni (‘the cotton ones’).

Piece of Dammur cloth from Sudan, 1920s, collected by Grace Crowfoot (TRC 2016.0034).Piece of Dammur cloth from Sudan, 1920s, collected by Grace Crowfoot (TRC 2016.0034).Magdalena Woźniak from Poland is studying Nubian textiles. She was recently at the TRC to look at relevant objects that were collected in the 1920s in Sudan by the British textile historian, Grace Crowfoot. Magdalena has written a brief report:

The TRC Collection is very much like Ali Baba’s cave – each box contains hidden treasures! While working for the last few days on Grace Crowfoot’s ethnographic collection from Sudan, I had the immense pleasure of discovering a cotton cloth (TRC 2016.0034) labelled “ ‘Dammur’ woven from ‘Tree’ cotton at Hillet Mahmud, Sennar.”

Why is this so exciting? Because ‘dammur’ was mentioned by European travellers from the 19th century as a substitute for currency. Here is an extract from an account by the Swiss geographer and Orientalist, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt (1784-1817), who visited Sudan in 1813: “The common currency of the country at Berber, and all the way from thence to Sennaar, is Dhourra, and Spanish Dollars; […] Besides the Dhourra, another substitute for currency is the Dammour, a coarse cotton cloth, which is fabricated in the neighbourhood of Sennaar, and principally used by the people of this country for their shirts: one piece of Dammour is exactly sufficient to make one shirt for a full grown man; this is called Tob, or Thob Dammour.” (J. L. Burckhardt, Travels in Nubia, London, 1819:234).

Three pairs of buttons, The Netherlands, 1930s (TRC 2018.1497a-f).Three pairs of buttons, The Netherlands, 1930s (TRC 2018.1497a-f).As noted in an earlier blog, the last few months at the TRC have been used to sort, photograph and catalogue a collection of 1920’s-1940’s textiles and garments from a family in Wassenaar, which is close to Leiden. The donation also included what appeared to be a small box of buttons, buckles and clasps, which fitted into our work on textiles and fashion.

The buckles and clasps were quickly catalogued and put online, but the buttons presented a totally different challenge. There were hundreds of them! What should we do with them! Keep them all? Make a general collection or something more complicated, namely a reference collection? The latter could then be used by the TRC and others for identifying and describing buttons from all ovet the place and from all periods. Buttons seem so ordinary they are often forgotten or regarded as unimportant. Such a reference collection would take them out of obscurity.

With typical TRC bravado we have decided to make such a reference collection. The button descriptions have been divided into the following: a. Materials used to make the buttons (from bone to plastics); b. General appearance (bell, convex, concave, flat, round, square, etc); c. Parts of a button (and there are an intriguing range of elements for something so small); d. Different types of fastening systems (through, shank, stud, etc); e. Function (buttons, inside buttons, shoe, glove, dress, waistcoat, uniform, etc).

It will be a while before the whole Button Reference System is working in a satisfactory manner, but we feel that this and similar reference collections will make a big difference in creating a more accurate description of what we actually have in the ever growing and quite frankly, quite amazing TRC Collection.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, Sunday 13th May 2018


Detail of a Christening veil from Brussels, Belgium, c.1820 (TRC 2014.0831).Detail of a Christening veil from Brussels, Belgium, c.1820 (TRC 2014.0831).TRC volunteer Olga Ieromina and director Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood are busy at the moment sorting out and cataloguing the TRC’s extensive lace collection. The main theme of the collection is 'technique' and it includes needle laces, bobbin laces, net, knotted (tatting, macramé), looped (knitted and crochet), and embroidered forms, as well as a range of machine made laces (levers, chemical, etc).

During the next few weeks more and more items relating to the production of lace will be made available to view in the TRC Collection online. These include tatting shuttles, hairpin lace frames, a wide selection of crochet hooks from the early twentieth century, as well as various types of lace bobbins and related equipment.

Most of the TRC lace dates to the 19th and 20th centuries, but we hope to increase the range of examples over the next few years to make it into a comprehensive reference collection for the identification of lace.

The weekend of the 8th-9th September 2018 will be dedicated to a two-day course given by Olga on the identification of different types of lace and an explanation of how these are made (click here for more information and registration). This course is designed for people with little knowledge of the various types of lace, but will also be of interest to the experienced.

If you have any examples of old lace that you would like to donate to the TRC, please do not hesitate to get in contact with us at Dit e-mailadres wordt beveiligd tegen spambots. JavaScript dient ingeschakeld te zijn om het te bekijken..

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, Thursday 10th May 2018

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