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TRC Blog: Textile Moments

Museum of bags and purses

The Tassenmuseum, Amsterdam

The Tassenmuseum, Amsterdam

It’s always fun to sneak a peak inside someone else’s hand bag. Especially when the hand bag belongs to royalty. That is exactly what visitors get to do at the latest exhibit at Amsterdam’s Museum of Bags and Purses (Tassenmuseum). The exhibition “Royal Bags: Bags of European Royal Families” (on until 26 February) displays bags and purses that belonged to Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth I; Empress Sisi of Austria, Princess Grace of Monaco and Queen Elizabeth II.

Sisi had particularly well-stocked travel luggage; Princess Grace’s brown leather bag by Hermes is still produced and known by her last name: the Kelly bag. Queen Elizabeth II famously carries an ingenious little hook which is used to hang her bag from tables. Both these royals’ bags held or hold little except a handkerchief, glasses and lip stick. The Dutch Royal family is not neglected: on display are three handbags personally chosen by Queen Maxima from the former Queen Juliana’s collection. One of them, a golden handbag, has also been carried on different state occasions by Queen Maxima herself.

The display is an interesting statement on the role fashion plays in establishing status and authority. The Museum’s permanent display of bags and purses also makes a visit worthwhile. The Tassenmuseum is only one of three hand bag museums in the world, and the only one of its kind in Europe. Its collection of over 5000 bags and purses is amazing. The permanent display gives the history of the European purse from the 1500’s onwards, from a mediaeval English alms purse to an elegant Chanel hand bag. In its earliest form, mostly worn by men, leather bags with drawstrings were worn from belts to carry objects like coins, gaming pieces, combs or religious relics. The oldest bag in the collection is on display, a goatskin bag with 18 compartments (some of them secret), worn by a 16th century man in France.

By the 17th century pockets began to appear in men’s clothing, so it was women who mostly used bags, to carry money, sewing equipment, keys, combs and writing tablets. One of my favourite objects on display is a rare pair of stocking purses—beautifully embroidered pear-shaped bags (usually of cotton or linen), with strings so they could be tied around the waist. A woman would wear these bags under her skirt, on each hip. There were slits in her skirt to allow access to the bags. I also enjoyed the beautiful nineteenth century beaded bags. In the early nineteenth century these bags were knitted with glass beads (usually from Czech or Bavarian glass factories). Fifty thousand beads had to be strung in the right order before knitting began, so as to produce the right design. No wonder each bag took about two weeks to complete. By the end of the nineteenth century it became cheaper to weave such bags. The bags were still beautiful—and practical, just as today’s bag. The Tassenmuseum’s collection is on-line, with information in both Dutch and English:  

Shelley Anderson, 19 February 2017


A knitted cap from the Fair isle

The TRC has recently been given a hand-knitted Fair Isle cap (TRC 2017.0006) for a child, by a good friend of the TRC's, namely Brigitta Schreuder. Her father-in-law used to travel in the 1960s as a guest on merchant ships and went to many places around the world. He would buy a souvenir at each of his ports of call, including the Fair Isle, which is an island that lies off the northern coast of Scotland. It belongs to the Shetland Island group. The island has long been famous for the production of knitted goods, including caps, gloves, jumpers, and so forth, which were originally worn by the fishermen, but became fashion statements in the twentieth century. The cap now in the TRC collection has been examined by Lies van de Wege (TRC volunteer) and she has made a pattern chart that can be used for knitting, embroidery, beadwork, and so forth. So have a look and enjoy!

Here is the original:

Fair Isle knitted cap. TRC 2017.0006

Fair Isle knitted cap. TRC 2017.0006






National Portrait Gallery, London

Jane Austen (1775-1817), by Cassandra Austen, c. 1810.

Jane Austen (1775-1817), by Cassandra Austen, c. 1810.

This morning Willem and I spent several house at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG), here in London. It was amazing to see so many of the original portraits (and some new ones) again that we had used for entries in TRC Needles - especially the Tudor and Stuart portraits with their blackwork collars, ruffs, embroidered gloves and so forth. We saw for instance the portrait of Katherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII. We also saw a double portrait of Lady Dacre and her son George (c. 1559). The same formidable lady is also portrayed (click here) on a canvas now in the National Portrait Gallery of Canada, made by the Dutch artist Hans Ewouts.

We sneaked a look at the tiny miniature of Jane Austen - it is so delicate. Last summer we visited various places linked to her, as for instance her grave in Winchester Cathedral and the house where she died, but also the places where she walked around, and danced, in Bath (see our blog of 7 August 2016).

It is worth noting that the NPG has a fashion trail by Lucinda Chambers, the Fashion Director of the British Vogue. It is callled "Height of Fashion Trail" and covers 500 years of British fashion in a select number of portraits. It would be fun to do an embroidery and/or lace trail using the NPG Collection!

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 20 January 2017


Brunei Gallery exhibition, London

Embroidered prayer mat from Afghanistan

Embroidered prayer mat from Afghanistan

Last night (19th January 2017) Willem and I attended the official opening of a beautiful exhibition about embroidered and woven textiles and garments at the Brunei Gallery (SOAS) in London. The exhibition is called "Embroidered Tales, Woven Dreams" and was curatored by Marian Bukhari. It will be on display until the 25th March 2017. The exhibition includes a wide range of textiles and garments from Afghanistan, Central Asia, the Indian subconintent, as well as the Middle East. The chance to see such a wide range of objects in one location is worth an applause and a visit to the exhibition.

Many of the items on display come from Marian Bukhari's personal collection, as well as several other private collections. The exhibition is designed to show the lives of various groups whose ancestors lived along the famous Silk Road. The stated aim of the exhibition is to tell the story of these people (past and present) and how as their: "embroideries flourished, they became a record of their history, social customs, folk tales and myths as heredity wisdom and skills were passed down from mother to daughter in an attempt to guard their techniques and traditions in textiles."

The exhibition is displayed on three floors of the Brunei Gallery and includes a series of regionally dressed mannequins, a wide range of embroidered textiles (hanging and on panels), paintings, manuscripts, as well as stylised, life-sized cut-outs of camels and oxen (which may sound a little strange but they do add to the atmosphere of the exhibition). There is also a series of tableaus that depict various groups, such as a large 'orange' room with a tableau featuring what appears to be a wedding group. I say what appears to be with a degree of caution because when we were there there were no text boards yet in the exhibition that explain individual groups or objects, which was somewhat disappointing. Text boards with the very general line of "Afghanistan", "Indus" etc, are present, but nothing else.

As noted by Marian Bukhari in her opening speech, she wanted the individal embroideries to speak for the women who made the objects (although in some cases some of the items on display were probably made by men in professional workshops, rather than by women at home). There were also technical problems with the exhibition because of the delay in the arrival of essential display materials and many items that should have been displayed were not presented on the opening night. I understand that next week all the items will be displayed and information about the individal items will be added to all of the pieces as they are not only beautiful and a feast for the eyes, but, as stated by Marian Bukhari, they also have stories behind them and I would dearly love to 'hear' some of these stories as well.

Giliian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 20 January 2017


Opus Anglicanum in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Willem and I have spent the last few days in London, basically because I was asked to give a lecture to the Oriental Rug and Textile Society of Great Britain about the work of the TRC. This was given in the evening of the 18th January to a full house in the meeting room of an 18th century church in the centre of London. It was fun talking about the TRC: its origins, the wide range of acivities, its ever expanding collection, and the plans for the future. A group from the society will be coming to The Netherlands in March and will be spending some time at the TRC.

Today Willem and I, plus a textile friend, Caroline Stone from Cambridge, spent some time at the Victoria and Albert Museum looking at two very different exhibitions. The first was about Lockwood Kipling, father of Rudyard Kipling, the famous British author of books such as Kim and Jungle Book. Lockwood Kipling visited the Great Exhibition of 1851 and became fascinated with Indian arts and crafts. He moved to India and was involved in the development of a wide range of crafts, especially in the Punjab region of the country. He also helped to establish an art academy in Lahore. Lockwood Kipling was also involved in the British arts and crafts movement, including the design and production of textiles and embroideries. An interesting exhibition about an influencial artist and designer, who has been overshadowed by the work of his son.

The main reason for going to the Museum, however, was to see their Opus Anglicanum exhibition (which finishes on the 5th of February, 2017, so you may need to hurry). This is a wonderful exhibition that takes the visitor through the different types of 'English' gold, silver and silk embroidery that was produced in London and various ecclesiastical centres from about the 12th to the mid-14th century (and the Black Death plague), when many people died, including skilled embroiderers. It has been argued that Opus Anglicanum, and English embroidery in general, never again reached the same standard of metal thread and silk embroidery. Opus Anglicanum was desired, commissioned and used by the medieval courts and churches throughout Europe. It was even regarded as a suitable gift for various popes, hence so many pieces being preserved and housed in European ecclesiastical collections.

The London exhibition has many famous examples of Opus Anglicanum on display, including the Syon Cope, the Toledo cope, and the Vatican cope, but also various chasubles (including the Clare chasuble), and dalmatics, as well as a beautiful little figure of a knight from Stonyhurst College that dates to early 14th century. There are also a number of orphreys, burses, and panels in general. But also the 'achievements' of the Black Prince (see the TRC Needles entry)!

Attention is also paid in the exhibition to the professional embroiderers (men and women) and the tools that they used (based on archaeological finds from various quarters of medieval London). The methods of working are also explained by various videos, which are extremly helpful. The chance to see so many pieces of Opus Anglicanum in one place is truely amazing and thanks to the help of various museums throughout the world the exhibition provides a rare insight into this brilliant (literally) form of embroidery.

The exhibition is accompanied by a superbly executed catalogue with magnificent photographs. It is entitled: English Medieval Embroidery. Opus Anglicanum. It is edited by Clare Browne, Glyn Davies and M.A. Michael. It is published by Yale University Press, in associated with the Victoria and Albert Museum. Year of publication: 2016.

The exhibition was presented in collaboration with the London firm of Hand & Lock, an embroidery company that specialises in metal thread embroidery. We actually went to see them yesterday to discuss their celebratory programme for this year. The firm will be celebrating its 250th anniversary in the summer of 2017. More details about their work and celebrations can be found at the Hand and Lock website

After our visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum, Willem and I walked back to our hotel via Liberty's of London, the famous shop just off Regent Street, which dates back to the late 19th century. Their textile department is well worth a visit (if you like the Liberty style of course!). Tonight we are going to the opening of an exhibition called 'Embroidered Tales and Woven Dreams' at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, London. More details about this exhibition will be given in our next blog.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 19 January 2017



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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

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: