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TRC Blog: Textile Moments


“A World of Feathers” is the latest exhibition at the Ethnographic Museum (Museum Volkenkunde) in Leiden (the Netherlands, click here), which runs until 5 March 2017. It showcases an impressive collection, mostly of headwear, but also capes and haute couture gowns and scarves. One room is devoted to an amazing variety of birds whose feathers are used, from pheasants (think Queen Maxima’s stylish hats), eagles and owls (North American medicine men’s healing sticks and war leaders bonnets), to peacocks and the lowly chicken, whose dyed feathers trim an Aztec-inspired Mexican concheros dancer’s skirt.

The variety of feathers is enormous, as are the contexts the garments are used in. Whether it’s a chic Parisian wedding or a boy’s initiation rite in New Guinea, feathers are used to decorate and distinguish the human body, to show status and identity. As such, they can also be political: indigenous activists in the Amazon are now wearing traditional feathered headdresses to show pride in their roots—and to make a statement about protecting their land against deforestation. There is a short video with a Cherokee scholar, Dr. Adrienne Keene of Brown University (USA), who explains why many Native Americans are offended when non-Indians wear war bonnets at football games or in fashion shows.

The exhibition uses many excellent short videos to go deeper into the theme. My favorites included an interview with a Hawaiian woman who makes traditional leis (garlands) from thousands of small feathers. And an interview with an employee at Maison Lemariè, the only remaining plumassier in Paris. There, over 1000 ostrich feathers were being added, by hand, to a gown. It can take over 200 hours to steam (a process which adds sparkle) and apply feathers to a single dress. But it is the objects themselves which evoke interest. There is a seal skin and eider down cap from Greenland. A head dress made from plastic drinking straws, to replace a ritual feathered head dress that was destroyed, in Brazil. Also on display is a coil of up to 60000 red cardinal feathers, from the Solomon Islands. This is called tevau, and such coils were used as money up to the 1980s.

Last but definitely not least, there is a feathered cloak from the Chancay culture, excavated from a coastal grave in Peru, from circa 1100 to 1450. The feathers were collected from Amazonian birds, hundreds of miles and over the Andes mountains away. Fortunately anyone who wants to see this worthwhile exhibition doesn’t have to travel that far.

Shelley Anderson, 10 December 2016


Two days, and hundreds of veils

One of the participants of the Veils and Veiling workshop on 4-5 November, wrote to us with the following brief account:

Over a two-day span a small group came together at the TRC to listen and learn about veils with the TRC director, Dr. Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood. The workshop in early November was called Veils and Veiling and the premise was to understand the notion of veiling from various perspectives. We looked at the history and variety of veils from northern Africa to Central Asia. We were able to touch and try-on all the versions of veils that covered the head and torso, specifically focusing on the face veil.

The participants in the group were diverse mix ranging from students to instructors from as far as Japan and the United States. Each member of the small group brought their own curiosity and insight on the subject, asking questions and sharing ideas in a very casual and organic manner. Over the course of the two days, as the Leiden rain drizzled outside, we were absorbed in the samples Dr. Vogelsang presented to us. The hours flew by as she told of the cultural significance and the context the garments were worn in. Her captivating stories of princesses and nomads whisked us through centuries and danced us across the globe. Over tea and coffee, we reflected on and discussed how our perceptions had changed since the start of the workshop. Being able to try on the countless garments and to ask questions about the construction and the function of the pieces were thoroughly beneficial. The Centre is an invaluable resource that must be venerated for the scale of its collections as well as the wealth of knowledge its director brings to the community. Truly, an enriching two days. Best, Hawa

Hawa Stwodah, USA, 14 November 2016


Online catalogue of the TRC collection

Detail of knitting sampler dated AD 1791. TRC 2016.2261

Detail of knitting sampler dated AD 1791. TRC 2016.2261

Work on the online catalogue of the TRC collection is getting well on the way. Perhaps you should have a look. Click here. For instance, one of the latest acquisitions to the collection is a knitting sampler that is dated AD 1791. The TRC recently obtained it together with a collection of embroideries from Hungary. This knitting sampler may be one of the oldest, and securely dated knitting samplers ever found in Europe. You can see the sampler in our online catalogue, click here.





Hungarian embroideries, a knitting sampler from AD 1791, and an embroidery chart of an Hungarian cushion cover

Hungarian cushion cover, TRC 2016.2246. Click on photograph for PDF-file.

Hungarian cushion cover, TRC 2016.2246. Click on photograph for PDF-file.

A few months ago the TRC announced that it had the chance to acquire a small collection of Hungarian textiles, mainly embroideries. Thanks to the help of various people the items arrived at the TRC last week and we have been busy photographing and cataloguing them (they are now all online in the TRC Collection, nos. TRC 2016.2237 to 2016.2261).

The textiles include a variety of different embroidery techniques and designs. Over the next few weeks we will be putting various charts online via the TRC Blog. In fact, the first of these Hungarian designs (TRC 2016.2246) is now available (click image) and consists of an eight-pointed star set within a diamond-shaped trellis work. It is worked on an even weave cotton material using a mid-blue stranded cotton thread. The design is worked in cross stitch. The pattern comes from a cushion cover that dates to the latter half of the twentieth century.

Knitting sampler dated AD 1791, TRC 2016.2261

Knitting sampler dated AD 1791, TRC 2016.2261

Among the Hungarian objects was something we had not expected. We knew the new acquisitions included a knitting sampler (TRC 2016.2261) and we had presumed it was early twentieth century in origin. On closer inspection, however, we found that there was a date, namely 1791, which would make it one of the earliest known dated knitting samplers from Europe. It takes the form of a narrow band sampler and is knitted using a linen thread. The top half of the sampler follows a classic needlework sampler format, namely it has various initials, a date, the alphabet, followed by 0-10 in numbers. The rest of the sampler is divided into two vertical rows with numerous lacy knitting patterns. We are now looking for someone who would be willing to translate these patterns into charts so that they can be published online for everyone to enjoy!

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 12 November 2016


Two cross-stitch patterns for ecclesiastical garments

Tunic and stola with embroidery, TRC collection.

Tunic and stola with embroidery, TRC collection.

As part of the huge Kircher collection of European regional dress aand textiles, we also received two particular ecclesiastical garments with embroideries. We are not exactly sure where these two come from, but they are a stola (click here) and a short tunic with wide sleeves (click here). The garments smelt of incense when we unpacked them (and still do!). The embroidery is worked in a dull red cotton perlé using a simple cross stitch. There are two similar, but not identical, designs, which makes us wonder if these two garments were originally meant to be worn together or not. The stola design is the simpler of the two.

Gillian Vogelsang-Estwood, 11 November 2016




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TRC in a nutshell

Hogewoerd 164, 2311 HW Leiden. Tel. +31 (0)71 5134144 / +31 (0)6 28830428

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: