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TRC Blog: Textile Moments

Veils and veiling workshop, 4-5 November

Burqa faceveil from the southern Sinai. TRC 2004.0066.

Burqa faceveil from the southern Sinai. TRC 2004.0066.

A two-day Veils and Veiling Workshop was held at the TRC on 4-5 November. It was a great pleasure to give as well as, for me, being instructive, thanks to the range and depth of the questions raised by the participants. The workshop was a mixture of practical and theoretical details concerning the history, use and social/cultural contexts of head, body and face veils of many different types and groups. The meaning of the head and its symbolic use for power was discussed in detail, but one of the questions was not easy to answer and needs further thought - what is the symbolic meaning of the nose!

Attention was paid to what was the difference between the main types of face veils - batullah, burqa, niqab, qina, etc., how they differ with respect to materials, construction and decoration, and whether this was a religious, social and/or economic indicator(s). We also looked at the various types of veils to be found in North Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East, the Arabian Peninsula, the Iranian world, as well as Central Asia and the northern Indian subcontinent. There was the opportunity to try on various forms from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, as well as Afghanistan. The various forms of burqa and chadari associated with Afghanistan and Pakistan were discussed and then tried on, as it is so important to understand something of how it feels to wear these garments, rather than seeing them as abstract items in a photograph.

And this is one of the strengths of the TRC's ever growing collection and workshops - the chance to see, feel and discuss actual examples.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 10 November 2016


Japanese Noh Theatre garments

Nuihaku met maanbloemen en takkenbossen, Japan, 1700-1800, collectie Okura Museum of Art

Nuihaku met maanbloemen en takkenbossen, Japan, 1700-1800, collectie Okura Museum of Art

Refinement and elegance are two words that come to mind when I think of Japanese textiles. A small exhibition now on display in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum highlight this point. Kimonos from the Okura Collection (running from now until 13 December 2016 in the Museum’s Asian Art department) features seven 18th to 19th century kimonos used as costumes in Noh theatre.

This type of theatre began in Japan in the 14th century and continues until today. It is very stylized, with stock characters, and combines song, dance and music. It was popular with the Japanese aristocracy. The colours and quality of the costumes (and masks, some examples of which are also on display) helped with characterization. Costumes became more luxurious, decorated in gold and silver leaf, over the centuries, reflecting more elite clothing as the rich flocked to Noh theatre.

On display, for example, is a kariginu, an outer garment worn by noblemen when they were hunting. It is fastened on the side with a thick multi-coloured cord. This cord, which also appears on the sleeve openings, looked to me like kumihimo, a Japanese braiding technique. (There are numerous YouTube tutorials on kumihimo, see here). This garment, like all of the textiles on display, is made of silk, and decorated with gold leaf. Another garment, used to represent an aristocratic woman in Noh theatre, is a 19th-century karaori. This silk costume is beautifully decorated in gold thread with good luck symbols, such as red poppies and mythological birds.

Karaori means ‘Chinese style textile’ and originally referred to a type of richly-decorated fabric (silk, often in a twill weave) that looked embroidered, but was in fact woven. This technique first appeared around the end of the 14th century in Japan. Similarly, another kimono (weft-dyed, 18th century, green silk) on display looks to be decorated with lovely blocks of patchwork, but is woven. It was fashionable in the 15th century to re-use old brocade for patchwork in kimonos—until weavers learned to imitate the look.

One stunning textile, at least, appeared to be designed specifically for the theatre. This is a hangiri, a sort of pants suit. It has a deep red colour with two large dragons in gold brocade. Also on display is a choken, an unlined outer garment of silk gauze, decorated in a purple wisteria and gold fan motif, which much have looked beautiful when danced in. Last but not least there are two nuihaku, kimonos worn by younger actresses. One is an 18th century silk damask embroidered with moonflowers and red brushwood, a literary reference to the classical Japanese novel Tale of Genji. This textile is considered the highlight of the exhibit. I found all of the textiles very beautiful. The only disappointment was the fact that not more costumes were on display.

Shelley Anderson, 8 November 2016


Presidential T-shirts

Small display of T-shirts with political slogans for US presidential elections. October/November 2016, TRC, Leiden.

Small display of T-shirts with political slogans for US presidential elections. October/November 2016, TRC, Leiden.

November 8 is Election Day in the US, when a new President and Vice-President will be elected. To mark the occasion the TRC has mounted a small exhibition of T-shirts that promote or mock different candidates from America’s two major political parties, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. The nine T-shirts on display are typical examples of American political textiles. They portray the candidate’s face and a slogan. This slogan either casts the candidate as a responsible leader or as a foolish incompetent.

Slogans from successful past presidential campaigns might also be evoked, such as the “Give ‘em hell, Harry!” T-shirt (cotton/polyester, Honduras, 2016) on display. This was the 1948 campaign slogan of President Harry Truman. The donkey on the T-shirt is a symbol of the Democratic Party, and so shows the wearer’s affiliation to the party.

Read more: Presidential T-shirts


About the TRC Intensive Textile Course, Johannes Vermeer and St. Clare

The Straatje van Vermeer (1632-1675). Courtesy Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, acc. no. SK-A-2860.

The Straatje van Vermeer (1632-1675). Courtesy Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, acc. no. SK-A-2860.

The last week has been very busy for various reasons. We have been running, for example, the October Intensive Textile Course. There were eight participants (the maximum we accept for each course), including colleagues from the London Museum, the Hermitage Museum (St. Petersburg, Russia) and Yale University (USA), as well some American and Dutch lovers of textiles. The week went very quickly as we studied, investigated and discussed a range of practical subjects (fibre identification, spinning, dyeing, weaving, etc.), as well as looking at a wide range of textiles from Europe, India and Indonesia (and other regions and countries between). Because the current TRC exhibition is about European embroidery, we spent time really looking at the objects on display and discussing how they were made, worn and regarded. The course will be repeated from 13-17 March 2017 (three places left) and again from 10-14 April 2017 and from 16-20 October 2017. For more information, click here.

This week was made more complicated because we had a donation of Dutch urban clothing coming in from a family in Wassenaar. The items included many garments and accessories from the 1910’s to the 1950’s, including a number of 1920’s cloche hats, as well as a range of early 1940’s outfits, shoes and hats. One of the course participants, a specialist in European twentieth century fashion, proved a great help in selecting and identifying the garments !

Beacuse of this and other donations and acquisitions, the nature of the TRC collection has been changing tremendously over the last few months, and we are working hard on getting more and more items on-line (click here) so that people around the world can share this amazing and diverse collection.

We also reached the amazing number of 2200 entries for the digital needlework encyclopaedia, TRC Needles. Click here to have a look at this fascinating collection of brief articles on a wide range of subjects that relate to decorative needlework, from materials, tools, embroidery stitches, to books, films, poems, paintings, samplers, and regional styles from around the world. Read here for instance about the famous 'Straatje van Vermeer' painting, by Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), now in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The woman to the right, in the door opening, is probably making bobbin lace! Or would you like to read about St Clare, the patron saint of embroiderers?

And last, but by no means least, the current TRC exhibition about European embroidery is attracting more and more visitors. And, if I may say so myself, it is a beautiful exhibition that will inspire you to find out more about the techniques, designs and history of European decorative needlework.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 22 October 2016


Chart of a Swedish reindeer design, 1960's

Below is a chart of the embroidery design that is derived from the pattern used for a woman's cotton apron from eastern Europe. It includes stylised deer worked in black embroidery thread (cross stitch and Holbein stitch). It dates to the 1960's.​ For a PdF file of the chart, click here.


East European deer chart, 1960's

East European deer chart, 1960's


Deer design for an East European apron, 1960's.

Deer design for an East European apron, 1960's.


Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 16 October 2016


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TRC in a nutshell

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

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

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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
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