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TRC Blog: Textile Moments

Lyon, France

Impression of the exhibition at the Musée de Lyon, France.

Impression of the exhibition at the Musée de Lyon, France.

Lyon, France, is proud of its textile history. This begins in the city’s airport, where mannequins in designer clothes are scattered throughout the arrival hall. Their plaques state that Lyon has been the Silk Capital of France since the 16th century, and continues to produce luxury silks, taffetas, velvets and laces for top fashion brands. Then there’s a Metro line called “La Soie” (“Silk”) and glossy advertisements for a candy named “Le Coussin de Lyon” (the “Cushion of Lyon”, after a silk cushion in front of a local statue of the Virgin Mary).

It is Lyon’s Textile Museum, however, that really showcases the city’s love affair with silk. The Museum has one of the world’s largest textile collections with some two and a half million objects, spanning 4000 years. The collection was begun in 1864 by the city’s Chamber of Commerce, which still runs the Museum. Herein lies a problem: several years ago the government cut its subsidies for Chamber of Commerces by 40 percent. The Lyon Chamber of Commerce decided it could no longer afford to keep the Textile Museum and its sister collection, the Museum of Decorative Arts.

Museum staff and supporters are working hard trying to secure private funding to keep the Museum open. If they do not succeed, the Museum may close at the end of this year and the collection will be divided up. Given that the Museum also houses a conservation and documentation centre and is headquarters, since 1954, for the prestigious Centre International de’Etude des Textiles Anciens (CIETA), this would be a blow to textile research.

It would also be a blow to the average textile lover, if the Museum’s most recent exhibition “The Genius of Industry” is an indication. It is a stunning exhibition of 18th and 19th century Lyonnaise fabrics, mostly used to decorate walls and furniture in wealthy homes or in palaces such as Versailles. The exhibition opens with a 19th century wood and iron dryer, beautifully decorated on the outside with Chinese images of silk production. The dryer was used to dry samples from silk bales. Silk can absorb up to one-third of its weight in water. Using this machine, prospective buyers were assured they were getting as much silk as possible.

And then come the stunning textiles: three metre long, beautifully preserved panels, many from silk and linen, often embellished with gold and silver thread. One such panel portrayed peacock feathers, bouquets of big flowers and broad ribbons, and used 48 different colours. This fabric decorated Marie-Antoinette’s bedroom walls. I was surprised at the narrowness of the panels, until I saw the exhibition’s Jacquard loom, with its width of about 40 centimetres. Because of meticulous record keeping, the names of the designer and the weaver (and, in the case of embroidery, the embroiderer) are often known. Each panel was accompanied by detailed technical information, unfortunately (for me) only in French. This is an exhibition that deserves to be seen—and a Museum that deserves to stay open.

By Shelley Anderson, 23rd May 2017

See also the blog of 22 May 2016. 

   

Philip V of Spain and Queen Maria Luisa: A serviette from 1701 with a long history

The text and designs on the damask serviette woven for the wedding of Philip V of Spain and his wife, Queen Maria Luisa of Savoy, in 1701.

The text and designs on the damask serviette woven for the wedding of Philip V of Spain and his wife, Queen Maria Luisa of Savoy, in 1701.

The TRC has just acquired a large linen serviette (115 x 88 cm) that has a fascinating history. It is made from a damask weave and was designed to celebrate the marriage of King Philip V of Spain and Maria Luisa of Savoy in 1701. The cloth depicts the King and Queen, as well as the arms of both royal houses. The representations on the right hand side are a mirror image of those on the left hand side.

At the top of the cloth is the text VIVANT ET REGNENT PHILIPPUS V HISPANIARUM REX ET CONIUX EIUS LUDOVICA REGINA ('MAY PHILIPS V, KING OF THE SPANISH, AND HIS WIFE QUEEN LUISA LIVE AND REIGN LONG') set inside a laural wreath.

The reason why serviettes in this period were so large is because women's dresses were particularly grand and a large piece of cloth was needed to protect the garments during meals.

Philip V (1683-1746) was the grandson of Louis XIV of France. His accession to the Spanish throne in 1700, which led to close dynastic links between France and Spain and the shifting of the balance of power in Europe, resulted in the War of the Spanish Succession, which was concluded in 1713 with the Treaty of Utrecht (and the occupation by Great Britain of Gibraltar, and the port of Antwerp being permanently blockaded by the Dutch). His wife was fourteen years old when she married. She died in 1714 of tuberculosis. 

Gillian Vogelsang, 10th May 2017

 

   

The TRC in Los Angeles

Fowler Museum, Los Angeles

Fowler Museum, Los Angeles

For the last week or so I have been in sunny Los Angeles, soaking up ..... textiles. I was asked by the Fowler Museum, UCLA, to comment on a collection of Syrian garments they are in the process of being given by a private collector. The garments are a spectacular group and all being well will feature in an exhibition at the Museum in about 18 months from now.

I left Leiden on the Thursday in order to get over jet lag in time for work on the following Monday and to see some friends. Friday saw a visit to the Getty Museum, and the chance to see four hundred years of European paintings. Including some, but not as many as I had hoped for, with embroidered garments. It was worth it though, just to experience the Getty and its architecture.

On Saturday afternoon, I gave a lecture about embroidery in the Arab world to the Textile Museum Associates of Southern California (TMA/SC) based in Los Angeles. Despite a change of venue and time there was a full house and extra chairs had to be sought. The lecture was called "1001 Embroidered Tales" and looked at the social and economic stories behind individual pieces and groups of embroideries in the Middle East. At the end of the meeting various members of the public displayed and talked about items they had brought with them. It was great fun. I also had the chance to talk about the work of the TRC and several people offered their help in obtaining pieces and thinking who might be willing to financially help the TRC. A special guest was Professor Olaf Kaper from Leiden, board member of the TRC, and presently in Los Angeles upon the invitation of the Getty.

We later also briefly discussed the possibility of setting up a non-profit society called "American Friends of the TRC." More about this in due course. One lady in particular, Marge Gajicki (The Folk Motif) went out of her way (literally as she lived in Long Beach about 50 km away) to get items of Hispanic and Western clothing, including a bolo tie that was given by her brother-in-law and several shirts of different styles, including Western, Hispanic and Hawaiian forms. Many thanks Marge! It means that I can face Shelley and Maria (two American volunteers at the TRC) with a calm heart when I get back as they want to build up the American dress collection at the TRC and I was given a shopping list, always an interesting moment.

A woman's outdoor coat from Uzbekistan, donated to the TRC by David and Elizabeth Reisbord.

A woman's outdoor coat from Uzbekistan, donated to the TRC by David and Elizabeth Reisbord.

Monday saw work start on the collection at the Fowler and the next few days were spent in photographing, cataloguing and discussing the collection, as well as talking with the exhibition and the publication committees. On Wednesday evening I gave a talk to the Fowler Textile Council at the Museum, with the chief curator of the Museum, Matthew Robb as my 'assistant'. One of the guests was Willeke Wendrich, now Professor of Egyptology in Los Angeles, who was one of the first Board members of the TRC in Leiden. She and her husband have been friends of long standing ! My talk was about the garments I was working on and the audience was given a sneak preview of an exhibition that does not (yet) exist. All I can say is that if and when the paper work is in order it will be a colourful and surprising display of Syrian garments, most of which date to the early 20th century.

While at the Fowler Museum it was mentioned that they had a series of books about textiles and clothing (well worth looking into). So on behalf of the TRC Library I went into begging mode and Marla Berns, the director of the Museum, very kindly agreed that the TRC could have any books on textiles and dress in their various series. This amount to 22 titles! Not only that, but the Museum paid for their postage to Leiden as they were far too heavy for me to take back in my (small) suitcase. This is a very generous gift and one which is greatly appreciated. The books will appear in the TRC Books Showcased over the next few months, we may even have a special issue dedicated to Fowler books.

The next few days prior to leaving were spent with friends, David and Elizabeth Reisbord, looking at their textile collection and dreaming of what the TRC could and should do in the future. They very kindly gave the TRC a group of Guatemalan textiles and garments and Indian embroideries. The latter will be used in the TRC's forthcoming encyclopaedia about embroideries from Iran, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. In addition, the TRC was given several textiles and a woman's coat from Uzbekistan, which can be seen in our forthcoming exhibition called "Dressing the Stans" that opens in September 2017 at the TRC Gallery.

Before signing off I would like to thank various people for making my trip to LA particularly memorable, notably David and Elizabeth Reisbord, Marla Berns (director of the Fowler Museum), Matthew Robb (senior curator of the Fowler Museum), the dedicated members of the TMA/SC and those of the Fowler Textile Council, many of whom belong to both groups. There is certainly a lot happening within the textile and dress field in the LA district and more is coming. Well worth keeping an eye on.

And the highlight of my trip to LA? Paddling in the Pacific Ocean with Elizabeth….

Gillian Vogelsang, 9th May 2017

   

Watteau in the Teylers Museum, Haarlem

Watteau in the Teylers Museum, Haarlem.

Watteau in the Teylers Museum, Haarlem.

“Watteau” is an exhibition now at the Teylers Museum in Haarlem. There is much to interest anyone with a love for fashion and textiles at this exhibit. Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) was an influencial French painter, famous for his depictions of prosperous people enjoying themselves at the theatre, dances, hunts and in nature. Watteau himself was fascinated by costumes and fashion. Clothing is prominent in the many prints and chalk sketches on display.

During his life time, French dress was changing from a heavy and ornate style, espoused by King Louis XIV, to less restrictive and simpler wear. This trend was influenced by a revival of interest in ancient Rome and Greece—and in what 18th century Europeans thought the ancients wore. Silk, velvet and brocade were popular materials in 18th century France and a lighter material, a mix of silk and cotton called bombazine, was also coming into fashion.

Watteau’s passion for dress is clear from the dozens of etchings, prints and paintings on display. He drew peasants and soldiers, but also Persians (an official Persian envoy reached Paris in 1715), merchants and aristocrats, always highlighting their clothing. Watteau also drew fashion plates himself. These were commissioned, not by fashion houses, but by publishers who wanted to profit from the public’s eagerness for fashion.

A very clear idea of contemporary French style emerges: men in flared coats and breeches, women in long gowns with wide hips made using metal paniers or hoops. Both men and women’s clothing is beautifully embroidered, details which Watteau meticulously represents in his work. The patterns reminded me of many designs in TRC’s Van Gerwen collection of 16th to 18th century European silks and velvets.

Fortunately there is also a real 18th century woman’s dress on display at the exhibit, loaned by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. This is a beautiful cream-coloured silk dress, dated around 1760, worn for both day and evening wear. The dress is damask, with woven stripes and tendrils, and decorated in a multi-coloured pattern of flowers. There are deep box pleats from shoulder to floor at the back. Watteau painted this type of gown so often that this style is actually called pli Watteau.

In an age without mass communication, Watteau’s paintings and drawings helped to spread ideas of fashionable wear. Also on display are masks and costumes, futuristic and whimsical in turn, created specifically for the exhibit by fashion students of the Rietveld Academy. Watteau is still inspiring fashion today.

“Watteau” is on until 14 May at the Teylers Museum: www.teylersmuseum.nl

Shelley Anderson, 25th April 2017

   

Therapeutic sewing for Syrian refugees, anno 1917

British wounded soldiers sewing for Syrian/Palestinian refugees.

British wounded soldiers sewing for Syrian/Palestinian refugees.

We just came across a remarkable photograph housed in the Library of Congress. The photograph is particularly poignant considering the current situation in the Middle East. But it also illustrates an old relationship between sewing, embroidering, and the military.

The Red Cross caption card tells the following: "British soldiers sewing for the Syrian refugees. A favorite pastime which has excellent results is the work of the convalescent soldiers now recuperating in Egypt... The men are busily making clothes for the destitute inhabitants of Palestine." The photograph probably dates to the period 1917-1920.

Sewing and working embroidery were often used in the past to help soldiers recovering from war-time wounds and traumas. TRC Needles provides some examples. Compare for instance the Bradford Khaki Handicrafts Club, which was established in 1918 in Bradford, West Yorkshire, UK, to provide occupational therapy and employment for men returning from the First World War (1914-1918).

The Casdagli sampler, 1941.

The Casdagli sampler, 1941.

Another example is a piece of embroidery made by Major Alexis Casdagli during the Second World War (1939-1945). He was captured in 1941 and remained a POW until the end of the war. While in captivity, he worked an embroidery that contained hidden messages worked in Morse code ("God save the King", and "Fuck Hitler"). During his captivity, Casdagli also ran a needlework school for other officers in the POW camps. He later said that the Red Cross saved his life with food parcels and letters, but his embroidery saved his sanity: “If you sit down and stitch you can forget about other things, and it’s very calming.”

Finally there is private Thomas Walker, who was wounded in 1854 during the Crimean War. He was painted by Thomas Wood while sewing triangles from pieces of military uniforms. The Morning Chronicle tells us the following:

Tuesday, December 25, 1855: The Queen has forwarded to Private Thomas Walker, 95th Regiment, a present of £10. On her Majesty's last visit to Fort Pitt she was struck with a quilt brought to her notice as the work of Walker, and desired that it might be forwarded to her Majesty, which has recently been done through Colonel C. B. Phipps.

Private Walker, by Thomas William Wood, 1856.

Private Walker, by Thomas William Wood, 1856.


Monday, March 3, 1856
: An artist is engaged in the Military Hospital, Fort Pitt, Chatham, completing an oil painting of Thomas Walker, 95th Regiment, who has been an inmate at the hospital for fourteen months, during which period the entire top of his skull has been removed by skilfull operation at different periods by Mr. William Perry, surgical operator. The painting, which is intended for an exhibition, represents Thomas Walker in bed, busily engaged sewing together pieces of different coloured cloth, for the purpose of making the quilt which the Queen, upon seeing, was pleased to order to be sent to the palace. A part of the pattern is represented in the picture lying outside the bed. It was at the battle of Inkerman this youth received his wound, by a shell bursting directly over his head, which it fractured in the most extraordinary manner, causing insensibility for several days, until a piece of bone which pressed on his brain was removed.

Gillian and Willem Vogelsang, 25th April 2017

 

   

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TRC in a nutshell

Hogewoerd 164, 2311 HW Leiden. Tel. +31 (0)71 5134144 / +31 (0)6 28830428   info@trc-leiden.nl

Opening times: Monday to Thursday: 10.00-16.00 hrs, other days by appointment.

Bank account number: NL39 INGB 0002 9823 59

Gallery exhibition, 3 April - 29 June: From Kaftan to Kippa

Entrance is free, but donations are always welcome !

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Financial gifts

The TRC is dependent on project support and individual donations. All of our work is being carried out by volunteers. To support the TRC activities, we therefore welcome your financial assistance: donations can be transferred to bank account number NL39 INGB 000 298 2359, in the name of the Textile Research Centre, Leiden. Since the TRC is officially recognised as a non-profit making cultural institution (ANBI), donations are tax deductible for 125% for individuals, and 150% for commercial companies. For more information, click here
 
Financial donations can also be made via Paypal: