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TRC Blog: Textile Moments

Two thousand new books for the TRC library

The TRC has received a donation of some two thousand books for the ever-growing TRC library. Read more about this amazing gift, which will be added to the existing collection of almost 3000 publications on textiles and textile studies already catalogued.

Read more: Two thousand new books for the TRC library

   

Dressing the Church: Syriac Orthodox Church vestments and textiles

Saint Ephrem Monastery of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Glane, The Netherlands.

Saint Ephrem Monastery of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Glane, The Netherlands.

The last few days have been very different for Willem and me. We spent the time in the Saint Ephrem, Syriac Orthodox Monastery in Glane in the east of the Netherlands. We had been invited to come to the monastery by HE Mor Polycarpus Augin Aydin, metropolitan bishop for the Syriac Orthodox Church in The Netherlands, following the opening of the TRC’s current exhibition about dress and diversity in the Middle East. An important part of the exhibition included Syriac monastic and liturgical garments and H.E. Mor Polycarpus officially opened the exhibition.

Many of the Syriac garments on display in the exhibition were donated by members of the Church and represent different levels, from monk and nun to bishop. Many of the items are embroidered in Turkey, but some are decorated in Kerala (India), where there is a large Syriac community. In addition we have just been given several (secular) outfits for a Syriac woman from the eastern part of Turkey. All of these items can be found in the TRC Collection database.

One of the main reasons for our visit is that the monastery wants to make a display of items relating to the life and work of the former Metropolitan Bishop, Mor Julius Yeshu Çiçek, who played an important role in the setting up of the Syriac Church in Europe and in The Netherlands in particular. The TRC has been asked to help with the display, which will include garments actually worn by the Bishop. The display will be opened on the 5th November 2017. In addition we have been asked to write a booklet about dress within the Syriac community and especially the monastic and liturgical forms. An exciting project indeed.

As part of this work we spent several days at the monastery and were able to attend various monastic services as well as a wedding and a baptism (of children and adults). We have also been given permission to ask a wide range of questions about the monastic way of life and the role of clothing as part of our research for the publication - ‘Dressing the Church’. We will be going back to the monastery in early July (just before we set off for India on another textile mission), to continue this work and see objects belonging to Mor Julius Yeshu Çiçek that will be used in the display. As you can imagine our list of questions is growing, but it will make the TRC’s collection of Syriac dress even more significant, when everything is put into context.

Gillian Vogelsang, 18th June 2017.

   

Garments made out of flour sacks

I never thought I would get excited about printed sacks, but my interest in flour and food sacks and how they were used over the decades is increasing! I wrote in an early blog about a Canadian printed flour bag (TRC 2017.0422), which was sent to Belgium during the First World War (1914-1918), where it was embroidered by refugees. Thousands of similar bags made the same trip and some were then shipped back to Canada and the USA where they were given away as souvenirs, as well as sold in order to raise more money for buying and sending food to Belgium.

This item came with a group of embroideries given to the TRC by Pepin van Rooijen of Pepin Press, Amsterdam. Last week the TRC was given another group of textiles by Pepin, which included over thirty printed food sacks from the USA (for instance TRC 2017.1360). These were large bags made of cotton that were used for corn, flour, sugar, rice, and so forth in the USA and Canada.

Bag and sack producers soon discovered that if the cotton sacks were decorated with a colourful printed design, then people would buy their bags (and contents). By the 1920’s garments and household objects (such as curtains and quilts) made out of these food sacks became an economic necessity in many poorer families. With the Great Depression of the 1930’s even more families depended on these sacks to provide basic textile necessities for family and household use. The sacks came in various sizes and qualities depending on what was being stored in them – flour bags tended to be a finer cloth than, for example, those used for maize or sugar.

Most sacks were between 75-110 cm in length and 45-50 cm wide when folded in half (to create the sack). Lengths of cloth can often be identified as ex-food sacks by a line of course sewing (or the resulting needle holes) along two edges. Sometimes the name of the manufacturer was also printed onto the cloth (often using a washable ink), while on other occasions a pre-printed label was used that could be peeled off.

Mexican flour sack, TRC 2014.0194

Mexican flour sack, TRC 2014.0194

The designs used for the food sacks varied considerably – with each printing companying vying to get the most popular designs and so sell the most cloth to the food sellers. The patterns ranged from stripes geometric shapes, stylised flowers to images of pigs, horse racing and cowboys at work. The cheaper ones were in one colour, while more up market variations had two or three colours.

By the 1940’s thousands of metres of cloth were being printed each year to supply the need for decorative food sacks that could be bought, swapped and generally saved until enough pieces of the right colour and design were acquired that could be made into garments, such as underwear, dresses, skirts, blouses, aprons and head coverings. In order to encourage people/women to make more of such garments, various booklets were published on how to make the most out of these printed lengths of material. There were also large and popular annual competitions for the best and most ingenious use of such sacks. Courses were taught at local colleges and in people’s homes in how to make sacks into garments for domestic use, as well as for sale.

The production of printed food sacks stopped in the 1960’s as people became more affluent and paper, later plastic, bags took over the role of the printed cloth forms. But for many (older) people the role of food sack garments remains a powerful reminder of their childhood and the important role of make-do and mend and not to waste anything that can be re-used.

While looking for more information and examples, I suddenly remembered that there are three Mexican flour sacks in the TRC Collections (for instance TRC 2014.0194), as well as a blouse made from a flour sack (TRC 2015.0192). I also came across, in the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection, some early 20th century images of Syrian and Armenian refugee children (probably in Lebanon) wearing USA flour sacks, and of poor Americans in the southern states of the USA wearing similar sacks.

What is certain is that looking at a ‘humble’ flour or food sack will never be the same. The social and economic history as well as ingenuity and skills of people who made clothing from ‘nothing’ is highlighted by these sacks and the finished garments. We hope to have a small exhibition about these and similar garments in the future at the TRC, so if you have any examples of printed flour or food sack garments or textiles you would be willing to donate to the TRC please let me know at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  

Gillian Vogelsang, 29 May 2017

   

Fowler Museum book donation

As a follow up to my visit to the Fowler Museum, Los Angeles, in April/May of this year, and my blog about the visit, I thought the TRC’s blog readers might be interested in having further details about the textile activities of the Museum and in particular about the Fowler Museum Textile Series (as far as I could see this series is not listed on the Fowler Museum website).

The series was started in 1998. It contains a series of well-illustrated monographs about the history and types of textiles and garments from around the world. These books are written by specialists in the various fields of textiles studies.

The Fowler Museum Textile Series includes the following titles. Copies of many of these books have recently been donated to the TRC:

  • Roy W. HAMILTON (1998), From the Rainbow’s Varied Hue: Textiles of the Southern Philippines (ISBN: 978-0930741655).
  • Doran H. ROSS (1989). Wrapped in Pride: Ghanaian Kente and African American Identity (ISBN: 978-0930741693).
  • Patrick DOWDEY (1999), Threads of Light: Chinese Embroidery from Suzhou and the Photography of Robert Glenn Ketchum (ISBN: 978-0930741716).
  • Anne SUMMERFIELD (1999), Walk in Splendor: Ceremonial Dress and the Minangkabau (ISBN: 978-0930741730).
  • Sharon Sadako TAKEDA (2002), Japanese Fishermen’s Coats from Awaji Island (ISBN: 978-0930741860).
  • Gloria Granz GONICK, Yo-ichiro HAKOMORI and Hiroyuki NAGAHARA (eds, 2003), Maturi! Japanese Festival Arts (ISBN: 978-0930741914).
  • Chapurukha M. KUSIMBA, J. Claire ODLAND and Bennet BRONSON (eds; 2007), Unwrapping the Textile Traditions of Madagascar (ISBN: 978-0930741945).
  • B. Lynne MILGRAM and Roy W. HAMILTON (2008). Material Choices: Refashioning Bast and Leaf Fibers in Asia and the Pacific (ISBN: 9780974872988).
  • Rens HERINGA (2010). Nini Towok’s Spinning Wheel: Cloth and the Cycle of Life in Kerek, Java (ISBN: 978-0977834426).
  • Roy W. HAMILTON (2012). Weavers’ Stories from Island Southeast Asia (ISBN: 978-0977834495).
  • Elizabeth Wayland BARBER and Barbara Belle SLOAN (eds; 2013). Resplendent Dress from Southeastern Europe: A History in Layers (ISBN: 978-0984755035).
  • Elena PHIPPS (2013). The Peruvian Four-Selvaged Cloth: Ancient Threads/New Directions (ISBN: 9780984755059).
  • HAMILTON, Roy W. and Joanna BARRKMAN (eds., 2014). Textiles of Timor: Island in the Woven Sea, Los Angeles: Fowler Museum Textile Series no. 13. ISBN 978-0930741501.

All of these books are well worth having, as they provide detailed information about the use of textiles and dress in various parts of the world. In particular the colour illustrations make these volumes special. Over the next few months the Fowler Textile Series books now at the TRC will be described separately in the column Books Showcased.

Gillian Vogelsang, 28th May 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

   

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. 

   

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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: