The TRC collection of textiles, clothing and accessories from around the world was started in 1997 with 43 pieces from Afghanistan, Egypt and Syria. Since then ithas grown to almost 26000 items (November 2019). The items come from very diverse backgrounds with respect to time and place. Some of the items in the collection have been purchased, but the vast majority has been collected during fieldwork or very kindly donated by various institutions and private donors.
The collection has no boundaries with respect to geography or time. It ranges from Afghan embroidery, German Lederhosen, Indonesian batiks, historical textiles from Leiden, to delicate silks from Renaissance Italy and spinning and weaving equipment from the Andes. Diverse? Yes, but there is one common denominator: The TRC focusses on the language of textiles and dress, and hence the common factor is that all items have a story to tell. Why do people wear this item of clothing? Why do people wear silk or cotton garments? What do they want to tell the world with their appearance, and how do people interpret and understand such a statement.
All of the pieces in the TRC collection have been catalogued and incorporated into the TRC Digital Collection Database. By November 2019, two thirds of the objects in the collection have been photographed and all information and the photographs can be used free of charge by anyone who is interested, but please add the reference: 'Courtesy Textile Research Centre, Leiden', and the registration number, e.g. TRC 2017.1765.
To give an idea of the range and depth of the collection, below we present a broad outline of some of its most important and intriguing elements.
AFGHAN TRADITIONAL DRESS: Afghanistan has a diverse dress tradition for both men and women, which is based on ethnic and social status criteria. The TRC has a substantial collection of Afghan garments and accessories for men, women and children. A large portion of the TRC Afghan collection was assembled by Willem Vogelsang between 2002 and 2011. Most of these items date to the latter half of the 20th century and represent the main groups living in the country, including Baluch, Hazara, Nuristani, Pashtun, Tajik, Turkmen and Uzbek groups. In addition, the Afghan collection includes a range of embroidered cloths, some of which were used as covers, while others functioned as prayer cloths. Many of the TRC’s Afghan items were on display in an exhibition entitled Well-Dressed Afghanistan, which was held at the TRC in 2010/2011. Furthermore the TRC has published a digital exhibition highlighting the TRC Afghan collection, which can be viewed here.
American quilts: Thanks to the generosity of the American Embassy (The Hague) and Mrs. Sherry Cook (USA), the TRC is building up a representative collection of American quilts that date back from the 1830's to the present day. These items include quilts, quilt tops, as well as a wide range of materials (notably feed sacks) used for making quilts and other items. Many of these quilts will go on display in Leiden as part of the Mayflower Year celebrations of 2020.
BADLA COLLECTION: The use of a narrow, flat metal thread (plate, lamella) to create various knotted effects can be found in India, southern Iran and Egypt. Its production used to be more widespread, but the skills needed to create these works are quickly vanishing. Since 1990s the TRC has been building up a collection of badla from India and the Middle East, including headcoverings and shawls from Egypt, Iran, Lebanon and Turkey. This technique is known as telli in Lebanon and Syria, tulle el-telli in Egypt and khus-duzi in Iran. The Indian pieces in the TRC collection include items made for the home market (notably saris) and for export, such as a badla overdress for an Omani Bedouin woman. In the TRC badla collection there is also a special item, namely a 1920s European flapper dress made from two Egyptian shawls decorated in the badla manner.
ÇATAL HUYUK FRAGMENTS: In the 1970s Dr. Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood was given a small box with even smaller fragments of semi-carbonised textiles from Çatal Huyuk, Anatolia. These were excavated during the 1963 excavations at the site. These tiny fragments of linen cloth are about 7000 years old and represent some of the oldest textiles in the world.
CHARLESTON LETTERS: The TRC has a collection of letters written in the 1940s by Robert J. Charleston (1916-1994) to various leading textile authorities of the period. Mr. Charleston was the Keeper of Ceramics and Glass at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He helped to build up the collection that is considered to be one of the most comprehensive in Europe. Charleston also had another, less well-known passion, namely textiles. The Charleston collection includes letters to and from pioneering archaeologists such as Sir Mortimer Wheeler, Grace M. Crowfoot, and R. Pfister, among others. The letters, written during and shortly after the Second World War, reveal a remarkable pan-European scholarly cooperation among British, German, French, Italian and Hungarian researchers. Mr. Charleston gave the letters to Dr. Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, director of the TRC, in May 1985 and they were given to the TRC some years ago. These letters will be published in digital form in 2017.
Since the 1990s the TRC has been actively collecting male and female ecclesiastical, monastic and secular dress and accessories of the Coptic community in Egypt. This work has been primarily carried out by Dr. Karel Innemée and Ms. Tineke Rooijakkers. The garments include all the levels from novice to bishop, for both male and female monastic professionals. Many of these items wiere on display in an exhibition about Middle Eastern dress and identity held at the TRC in early 2017. This exhibition was partly based upon a PhD thesis on the same theme that was s written by Ms. Rooijakkers (defended at University of Amsterdam in 2016). A TRC digital exhibition on Middle Eastern minority clothing, called 'From Kaftan to Kippa,' can be viewed COPTIC MONASTIC OUTFITS:here.
DUTCH REGIONAL DRESS: The TRC has deliberately been collecting examples of Dutch regional dress, and thanks to the help of the Prins Bernard Cultuur Fonds (national and Zuid-Holland branches), the TRC holdings are becoming substantial and represent the main regional forms and many of the more ‘obscure’ types. The basic collection was purchased from the Dutch collector, Herman Roza, but it has been enriched by many donations of individual or small groups of regional dress. A collection of Dutch lace caps from the collection went on display in Jordan in 2011. They were exhibited at the National Gallery of Art, Amman, with a wide variety of Jordanian and Palestinian forms of headgear for women. This exhibition was created with the help of Mrs. Widad Kawar (Amman) and the Dutch Embassy in Amman.
EGYPTIAN REGIONAL DRESS: since the 1990s the TRC has been deliberately acquiring Egyptian regional dress with the aim of creating a collection that represents many of the ethnic and cultural groups living in this vast country. Currently the Egyptian regional dress collection includes a range of urban, village and Bedouin garments, including items from various oases, notably Siwa, and the Sinai. An unusual item in the collection is a telli dress from the Middle Egyptian town of Asyut dating from the 1950s or possibly earlier. The collection was further enriched by Nubian items given by Prof. W. Adams and Nettie Adams, who are well-known scholars of Nubian life, including textiles. Many of the embroidered items from this collection are used in the Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World (Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, London: Bloomsbury, 2016).
EMBROIDERY COLLECTION: Over the years the TRC embroidery collection has been deliberately built up with the intention of showing the different techniques, forms and decorative styles used to create both simple and elaborate textiles around the world. The embroidery collection includes items from the so-called Coptic period in Egypt, including woollen and silk forms of embroidery, to the present day. It is particularly strong in 20th century embroidery from around the world. Many of the North African and Middle Eastern examples of embroidery were published in Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World (Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, London: Bloomsbury, 2016).
MODERN EUROPEAN PRINTED TEXTILE DESIGNS: In 2017 a publisher and friend of the TRC, Pepin Roojen from Amsterdam, decided to stop publishing books about textiles and clothing and move over to other printed forms. As part of his ‘tidying up’ he gave the TRC a number of ethnic garments, and thirty boxes of Western printed, woven and embroidered textiles. These were originally the property of Professor Cubelier from Paris, an expert on art and design, Professor of Art/Design, and were used as a source of inspiration. So far c. 3500 of these textiles have been photographed and put online with basic information. Most of these objects are printed samples with a wide variety of designs and colourways. They represent the history of European printing from about 1900 to 1980. Help with cataloguing and digitally publishing these textiles is being given by the School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University, England.
EUROPEAN REGIONAL DRESS COLLECTION: Thanks to the donation of a unique collection of European regional dress by Mrs. M. Kircher (Germany), the TRC now has A wide range of garments for men and women from Scandinavia to Greece. Most of the items date from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries, or slightly later. In particular this sub-collection is strong in German regional dress. The TRC already had a collection of Dutch regional dress, but the Kircher donation means that this part of the TRC Collection is now much stronger and varied. In addition, the range of bonnets and lace caps from The Netherlands and neighbouring countries has been added to and now represents a substantial part of the TRC holdings. Many of these items are displayed in the TRC’s exhibition: From Sweden to Sardinia: Embroidered garments from Europe (August 2016-February 2017).
Over the last few years the TRC has been building up a collection of items and photographs associated with one of the founding figures of archaeological textile studies, Grace Crowfoot. Thanks to the generosity of her grandson, John Crowfoot, the TRC now has her collection of spinning and weaving equipment acquired in Egypt, Palestine and Sudan in the 1920s. It also includes her trial pieces for copies of woven textiles from the tombs of Tutankhamun and St. Cuthbert. The Grace Crowfoot collection is currently being catalogued and will be published in the form of a digital publication in 2016. GRACE CROWFOOT COLLECTION:
HAND SPINNING EQUIPMENT: An important theme within the TRC is pre-industrial textile technology, with an emphasis on hand spinning. Over the years the TRC has built up a collection of traditional and modern hand spindles and distaffs from around the world. These include items that take on many different forms, but all of which are intended to spin raw fibres of various forms. In 2014 this collection was enriched by the addition of the hand spindles and distaffs acquired by the famous textile archaeologist, Grace Crowfoot, between 1920-1930, while she lived in Egypt, Palestine and Sudan.
Thanks to the generosity of Shell Iran, the TRC was able to built up a collection of traditional textiles and dress from Iran. For three years (1998-2001) members of the TRC were able to go this vast country to collect items based on the concept of what forms of traditional outfits for men, women and children were still being worn in Iran at the turn of the millennium. The TRC collection of Iranian regional dress is now the largest outside of Iran. Examples from this part of the TRC collection have been on display in various exhibitions, including IRANIAN REGIONAL DRESS: Beyond the Chador: Dress from the Mountains and Deserts of Iran which was held in 2013 at the TRC. This exhibition included 80 fully dressed mannequins that represent the costumes associated with almost all of the main ethnic groups in Iran.
JOSEPHINE KANE COLLECTION OF ARAB DRESS: Thanks to the help of the Prins Bernard Cultuur Fonds, the TRC was able to acquire the Josephine Kane collection in 2005. The majority of items in the collection were from Saudi Arabia, where Mr. and Mrs. Kane worked in the early 1980s. In addition, there were items from Afghanistan, Oman, Palestine and Yemen. Most of the garments were for women and included elaborately embroidered dresses. Many of the embroidered items from the Kane collection have been illustrated in the Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World (Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, London: Bloomsbury, 2016).
KANGAS: The first exhibition staged at the TRC in 2009, after it had moved to its new premises along the Hogewoerd in Leiden, was about a special type of cloth worn by women in East Africa and Oman called a kanga. These wrap around garments always have a saying in Swahili printed on them. These sayings can be both apt and pithy at times. The TRC collection of kangas has steadily grown since then and in particular due to the acquisition of kangas and related garments collected by Marloes van der Bijl in Zanzibar (2005), some examples purchased in Oman in 2006 and a more recent donation of kangas by Kate Kingsford (2015).
LACE COLLECTION: As part of building up a general reference collection for the identification of textiles (materials and techniques), the TRC is also focussing on its collection of lace (bobbin, machine, needle, etc). In addition to actual pieces of lace, this reference collection also includes tools such as bobbins, cushions, pattern parchments, as well as crochet hooks, hairpins, tatting shuttles, and so forth. Work on this part of the collection has only just begun so it will be several years before this section of the collection will be available to the general public.
THE LEIDEN CONNECTION: The TRC is building up a collection of items that relate to Leiden history. These items range from 17th century lead seals placed on woollen textiles (perhaps the famous Leiden laken, 'broad cloth') to modern flour sacks from the De Valk windmill. The collection also includes garments and accessories worn by people who have lived in Leiden, as well as items that reflect Leiden's long history. Also interesting are a coachman's outfit from about 1900, as well as outfits worn by members of the Drie October Vereniging. One of the most intriguing items, however, must be the Leiden Hat, which is a miniature hat made by Hendrik Visser from Leiden, in 1796, as part of his journeyman examination. The hat comes with a hand written certificate. The Leiden Hat Maker's Guild, that ordered the hat to be made, was abolished by Napoleon in about 1810 and this is the only extant direct evidence of the guild's activities.
Since 2007 the TRC has been building up a collection of lotus shoes, the minute shoes worn by mainly Han Chinese women up to the early 20th century. The collection not only includes a range of shoes from different parts of the country, but they also represent different moments, such as weddings, funerals, burials, and so forth. In addition, items relating to the production of lotus shoes including a range of tools, are included in the collection. Many of these shoes were on display in the TRC exhibition (2012/2013) about decorative and protective footwear. LOTUS SHOES COLLECTION:
OMANI REGIONAL DRESS: Since the 1990s the TRC has been deliberately building up its collection of Omani regional dress. Thanks to the very kind donation of garments by the Oman Embassy, The Hague, the TRC collection has most of the main types of garments worn in the country. Many of these items were displayed in the Nieuwe Kerk (Amsterdam) exhibition, simply called Oman, that took place in 2009-2010. In addition, various embroidered items from the Omani collection are used in the Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World (2016)
SAUDI ARABIAN REGIONAL DRESS: Thanks to the help of the Prins Bernard Cultuur Fonds, the TRC was able to acquire the Josephine Kane collection of Arabian Peninsula dress in 2005. As a result of this purchase the TRC now has a diverse collection of Saudi Arabian regional dress. The garments are primarily for women, but men’s outfits are also represented. They include items for both urban, village and Bedouin groups. The latter include the Beni Malik, Beni Tamin, and Beni Said garments. Among the urban garments is a dress woven with gold and silver that was worn by a Saudi princess to a wedding in early 1980s. Around the hem of the dress is a woven text in Arabic saying that the cloth was made for the Saudi royal family. Many of the TRC Saudi Arabian garments were on display in an exhibition called Flowing Robes: Clothing and Jewellery from Saudi Arabia, which was held at the National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden, in 2006-2007. In addition, various embroidered items from the TRC Saudi Arabian collection are used in the Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World(Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, London: Bloomsbury, 2016).
SILK POSTCARDS: The TRC has a small holding of silk embroidered postcards dating from the First World War (1914-1918). These are often said to be hand embroidered, but they are made on a machine called, somewhat confusingly, a hand-embroidery machine, which deliberately copied the appearance of hand embroidery. A mini-exhibition about these cards and how they were made was held at the TRC in November 2015 in order to commemorate the ending of the war in November 1918. This collection has been made possible thanks to the help of Dr. Ian Collins. A PDF file of the catalogue of the postcards in the TRC collection can be viewed and downloaded here. The TRC has also published a digital exhibition on this theme, showing the TRC collection of postcards, which can be viewed here.
REFERENCE COLLECTION: In addition to all of the items mentioned above that are included in the main TRC collection the TRC is also involved in a long-term project to build up a general reference collection for the identification of textiles (materials and techniques) and related tools. This collection will eventually include fibres, threads, woven and non-woven forms, natural dyes, as well as printing and painting equipment, lace and embroidery forms and tools, as well as items such as sewing tools (needles, scissors) and notions such as fastenings (buttons, hooks and eyes, zips, and so forth). These samples are intended to help the identification of textiles and related items from a wide range of sources, including anthropological, archaeological, and historical items.
In 2014 the TRC held an exhibition called SUB-SAHARAN AFRICAN TEXTILE TECHNIQUES:The Silhouette of Africa: Colours and patterns of textiles and garments from Sub-Saharan Africa. It focussed on many of the traditional textile techniques to be found on the African continent. This exhibition included many items from the TRC collection in order to describe and discuss different fibre types (notably bark cloth, cotton textiles, human hair), dyed, embroidered, printed and woven forms from various groups currently living in sub-Saharan Africa. Items from the TRC collection include garments and textiles from West Africa (Ghana, Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone), Central Africa (The Democratic Republic of Congo), and East Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar), including items used by the Massai. Since the exhibition the Sub-Saharan African collection has been enriched by several Fante Asafo and Fon appliqué flags from West Africa.
VAN GERWEN COLLECTION: In 2011 the TRC was given a collection of 16th to 18th century European silks and velvets by the Van Gerwen family. These items were part of the Museum Van Gerwen-Lammens (Valkenswaard, The Netherlands) collection, a private museum dedicated to medieval and later ecclesiastical art. Sadly, the museum closed its doors in 2008. The textiles in question come from various countries, including France, Italy, Spain and possibly The Netherlands. They give a fascinating picture of the range of designs and colours used over a 300-year period for (expensive) textiles. These textiles are currently being studied with the aim of creating a digital catalogue dedicated to these items and comparative examples in other collections.
VEILS AND VEILING: For many years the TRC has been building up a collection of face veils from the Islamic world. These include both modern and traditional forms, which are made in a wide range of shapes, sizes and materials. These items represent the very diverse nature of face veiling that can be found from North Africa to Central Asia and show how culture plays such an important part in the form of face veil worn. Many of these items were published in the book, Covering the Moon: An Introduction to Middle Eastern Face Veils (Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood and Willem Vogelsang, Leuven: Peeters, 2008).
YEMENI REGIONAL DRESS: Among the items in the Josephine Kane collection that was acquired by the TRC in 2005, there were a number of dresses from Yemen. This part of the TRC collection has been increased since then thanks to the help of Paul Spijker (Toguna, Amersfoort) and Alison Elliot, with the help of the Al Buraai family in 2013. The Elliot/Al Buraai collection included twelve dresses from different parts of Yemen. Many items from the TRC Yemen collection went on display at the TRC in an exhibition called Dressing Sheba: Glittering Garments and Jewellery from Yemen. This exhibition took place in 2015 and resulted in various people bringing Yemeni items for the Yemen collection, including an intriguing dress with long train from the island of Socotra. In addition, various embroidered items from the Yemeni collection are used in the Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World (Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, London: Bloomsbury, 2016).