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Just had a few days in Brighton on the southern coast of England. I was attending a one-day meeting on Fashioning Africa, which is a project organised by the Royal Pavilion and Museums. The Project is about looking at, talking about and collecting African fashion, both traditional/classic forms as well as items made by specific fashion designers in various countries, including Ghana and Nigeria.

The meetings were very well attended, with colleagues, students and other interested people from all over Britain (and one from Holland) attending and taking part. There were two sessions, one with lectures and an afternoon session focusing on objects. For the first time ever I was described as a global textile specialist! I quite like the title.... now to make it true. Anyway, going back to the morning talks, it was fascinating hearing from the various speakers and how they approached the subject, the question of ethical collecting, and why should a British museum collect African garments? However, the question was turned around by referring to the large Afro-British population here, therefore why would you NOT collect items that represent their cultural background?

The afternoon session was spent looking at various groups of objects and explaining some of the different ways of looking at them, why were they made, what are they saying, etc. Participants moved from one table to another. There were tables with woven, dyed, and embellished forms, and some specialists explaining. At my table (embellished), I was not sure whether I had said the same things to all the groups, or had missed things out, let alone talked about all the objects. But the questions, comments and suggestions kept me going. There were some really interesting points made.

There was also a mystery object that the museum had put on my table..... Anyway, it turned out to be an Egyptian appliqué, something I know a little about as we had an exhibition on this subject at the TRC some years ago (for the TRC digital Egyptian appliqué exhibition, click here). Quite a relief.

One thing that was clear is that people's knowledge of fashion was good, but lacking in how to recognise basics, such as what is made of cotton, what is hand sewn, different types of weaves and embellishments. It has made me really think hard about a 5-day intensive textile course just on African textiles. If you are interested let me know and I will see what we can arrange with Brighton.

It was good having the chance to talk with colleagues, see people I had not seen for a while (including several who had been to Leiden on the normal 5-day intensive textile course), and to meet with students and enthousiasts with a passion for textiles and the stories they can tell.

Gillian Vogelsang, 1st October 2017

Four of the nine frames illustrating the various stages in binding and dyeing an ikat cloth.Four of the nine frames illustrating the various stages in binding and dyeing an ikat cloth.The last few days have been spent sorting out, tidying up and getting on with cataloguing and updating items for the TRC Collection, following the very busy week we have just gone through. Among some of the items registered is a wonderful series of frames made by the ikat weavers from Kalimantan (Borneo), who were at the TRC in August. The nine frames illustrate the various stages of setting up, binding and dyeing a set of warp threads (‘web’) using the ikat (resist, binding) technique before the coloured threads are woven into a piece of cloth.  At the same time the TRC acquired a loom used in the making of an ikat cloth, as well as an example of the finished product. All of which can be viewed on our collection online (nos. TRC 2017.3127- 2017.3129).

The design chosen by the weavers for these pieces (both on the frames and the finished item) is a stylised boat, symbolising the journey through life - both for me and the TRC. This symbol led me to think about one of the functions of the TRC, namely as a ‘Cultural Ark’, a title we were given by the Yemen Ambassador a few years ago when he came to see our Yemeni dress collection, while talking about the current civil war in the country that is causing so much havoc in so many directions.

Basically the TRC Leiden is a ‘boat’ that is home to examples of different production techniques, textiles, garments, and so forth that are not only stored here, but equally important, these items can be viewed, researched, published and exhibited, so that everyone around the globe can see them (actually or digitally), as well as preserving these objects for the future. The library, lectures and workshops are all part and parcel of the TRC experience and journey to becoming one of the most accessible cultural heritage resources (anywhere).

Over the next few weeks we are going to highlight various aspects of the TRC Collection, things that are old, new, large, small, smelly….. but all with a story to tell. Not bad for a ‘little’ institute in Leiden!

Gillian Vogelsang, 20th September 2017

Amish apron, Jamesport, Missouri, USA, 2017 (TRC 2017.2999).Amish apron, Jamesport, Missouri, USA, 2017 (TRC 2017.2999).Jamesport, Missouri (USA), is a small farming town surrounded by hectares of maize fields. Its official population is approximately 500 people. There is one other thing you should know about Jamesport, which made it perfect for my mission of expanding the TRC’s collection of North American textiles.

Jamesport is home to the largest community of Amish people west of the Mississippi River. Some 165 Amish families live and farm around the town. You can see them driving horse-drawn buggies on the roads (the use of cars and electricity is considered too worldly). They worship according to their Anabaptist beliefs and still speak the German dialect their ancestors did when they first came to North America in the 1700s. They also wear a distinctive form of clothing that they call ‘plain’ or ‘simple’ dress.

I wanted to buy some examples of this clothing for the TRC. Amish clothing is unadorned, in muted colours. The women wear ankle-length dresses, with an apron and bonnet; the men long trousers with shoulder straps. The clothing appears old fashioned in the 21st century and immediately distinguishes the wearer as a community member.

Pair of trousers for an Amish man, from Jamesport, Missouri, USA, 2017 (TRC 2017.2986).Pair of trousers for an Amish man, from Jamesport, Missouri, USA, 2017 (TRC 2017.2986).It was easy to find Amish quilts for sale in Jamesport. This distinctive style is immediately recognizable: dark colours (except for the pattern known as Star of Bethlehem or Broken Star), no checks or prints, with a centre dominated by an abstract motif, frequently of bars or stripes or blocks, with wide, unadorned borders. Amish quilts are also very collectible and sell for USD 1000 to USD 2000.

Amish clothing, however, wasn’t so easy to find. Fortunately, two shops in Jamesport gave me the same advice: drive down the hill for three miles, cross the railroad tracks, and look for the first building on the left. The directions were spot on: inside this shop were rows and rows of used Amish clothing, plus pickles, preserves, and other home goods for sale.

All the clothes were of a synthetic mix (except for a few pairs of denim trousers), and were of factory woven material. The clothes were also all skilfully home made, except for the men’s long sleeved white shirts (TRC 2017.2981), which were factory-made. Male trousers (TRC 2017.2982, 2017.2986) had a buttoned fall-front flap, with pockets and shoulder straps in the same material. While trousers for adult males and younger boys had buttons, some clothes for infants (TRC 2017.2984 and 2017.2983) used metal snaps. Many Amish consider zippers too worldly and will not use them.

While the male clothes showed no personal embellishments, there were small differences in some of the adult women’s dresses (TRC 2017.2995a, 2996, 2998). Almost all were loose fitting and ankle length, in solid pastel colours (primarily blue, grey, and green), with no prints or checks. Some featured a yoke or bib in the same material and most had a pocket. Sometimes an apron was made of the same material as the dress. While all the sleeves reached below the elbow, some women had made close-fitting cuffs, others loose. On some dresses a thin strip of the dress material has been sewn around the cuffs, a discreet embellishment. I did find one unfinished woman’s white dress with thin stripes (TRC 2017.2997), which made me curious about its story. All the clothes can be seen in the TRC’s on-line catalogue at www.trc-leiden.nl.

18th September 2017, by Shelley Anderson

Opening of the TRC exhibition "Dressing the 'Stans', 12th September 2017, by Prof. Peter Frankopan.Opening of the TRC exhibition "Dressing the 'Stans', 12th September 2017, by Prof. Peter Frankopan.This last week has been extremely busy thanks to a wide range of activities taking place at the TRC Leiden. Monday was spent putting the last touches to our new exhibition called Dressing the ‘Stans’: Textiles, clothing and jewellery from Central Asia. This exhibition was created as part of the Asia Year celebrations in Leiden that culminated in the opening of the Leiden University’s new Asia Library by H.R.H. Queen Maxima of the Netherlands.

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

Dressing the 'Stans' exhibition, from 12th September until 22 December 2017.Dressing the 'Stans' exhibition, from 12th September until 22 December 2017.Anyway back to Tuesday, the opening was followed by a light buffet, which gave everyone the chance to talk with Prof. Frankopan and to see the exhibition. Various guests promised items from home for the TRC Collection. Speaking of which, we were offered some Dutch regional dress items from one family from Nieuwland (Nieuw- en Sint Joosland) in the south of the Netherlands. Thanks to the generosity of one of the ‘Friends of the TRC’ who was at the opening, these items will be coming to the TRC next week and will enhance our growing Dutch regional dress collection.

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

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

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

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

Gillian Vogelsang, Saturday 16th September 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gillian Vogelsang, 27th August.

The first day of the series of workshops of original textile crafts from Kalimantan, Indonesia, 12th August 2017.The first day of the series of workshops of original textile crafts from Kalimantan, Indonesia, 12th August 2017.Today, Saturday 12th August, three of our guests from Kalimantan, Indonesia, showed their ikat production crafts to a group of fourteen interested enthusiasts. All the participants were invited to try out various phases in the ikat making process, in particular the binding and dyeing. The workshop was to last from 13.00 to 16.00 hours, but by 17.00 people were still dyeing.... Fortunately, tomorrow is another day and another workshop, on the weaving of ikats.

Our guests will stay at the TRC until the 24th, and provide a series of workshops and lectures. For more information, click here.

Willem Vogelsang, 12th August 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shelley Anderson, 8th August 2017

Modern example of gota and zardozi work from the City Palace, Jaipur. Acquired for the TRC collection on 1st August 2017.Modern example of gota and zardozi work from the City Palace, Jaipur. Acquired for the TRC collection on 1st August 2017.Today, Gillian and I visited Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, India. Since neither of us had ever been here, we were very curious this morning when our taxi driver and his brother, who have been with us for the last few days and have proven to be very patient and amused by our company and weird interests, drew up at the hotel and took us to the city centre. Our first port of call was the City Palace, where, we had been been told, there was a small display of garments worn by the past Maharajas of the city.

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

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

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

Willem Vogelsang, 1st August 2017

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