TRC Blog: Textile Moments

"Norwegian Stockings and Socks from a Rag Pile - Recycling and Retelling." Lecture by Annemor Sundbø, Wednesday, 18 December, from 14.00.

Annemor Sundbø

Annemor Sundbø

“If you don’t behave, I’ll sell you to the ragman.” This was my mother’s usual threat whenever I was too wild as a little girl. I didn’t believe her at the time, but her prophecy came true when literally tons of knitted rags landed on my lap when I bought the Torridal Tweed and Shoddy Mill some 25 years ago. I must admit that I have often wondered whether the rag pile was a punishment or a reward. It is said that arrogance brings its own punishment, but I am absolutely certain: this enormous amount of remnant thread has been spun into my life thread.

Everyday issues are reflected in the rags, including the fight against poverty, but there are also funny and creative aspects. My role has been not only to reuse woollens from all of these remnants, but to give them an afterlife by passing on their history.

Customers come to my mill everyday, bringing worn-out knitted garments as part-payment for wool-filled quilts, mattresses and sleeping bags, or wool blankets and tweeds.

Read more: "Norwegian Stockings and Socks from a Rag Pile - Recycling and Retelling." Lecture by Annemor Sundbø, Wednesday, 18 December, from 14.00.

   

Silk Flowers and History

Examples of silk flowers produced by the firm of Schmalberg, New York.

Examples of silk flowers produced by the firm of Schmalberg, New York.

On Sunday, 24 November 2019, Shelley Anderson wrote:

I recently made a donation to the TRC that reflects some prized textile history. The donation includes three hand-made artificial flower accessories. The red silk rose and white peony, shown in the accompanying photograph, can be worn as brooches, while the many coloured carnation (in honor of the 50th anniversary of LGBTQ+ Pride) is a stick pin for lapels.

All the flowers come from M. & S. Schmalberg Custom Fabric Flowers, a family-run operation that has been in business for 103 years. Schmalberg is located in New York City’s famous Garment District, where milliners, costume designers and tailors have shopped for fabrics for over a century. Some 400 textile wholesalers and shops still operate in the District.

Making silk flowers is an intricate process. Customers usually supply the fabric, often velvet or silk satin-faced organza. The material is treated with fabric stiffener and then dried on wooden racks. A cutting machine produces the flower shape from different molds, some of which are a century old. A hydraulic press then embosses the shapes with details like veins. The fabric is then folded and shaped by hand into different flowers.

Though fashion houses such as Oscar de la Renta and Vera Wang (who once ordered two hundred thousand silk petals) patronize Schmalberg, times are not easy. In a May 2019 article on M. & S. Schmalberg in the New York Times (read here), a manager noted that overseas competition has severely weakened the US textile industry. Years ago, he said, “Next door to us was a button man. The other side was a thread man. And a zipper guy. Now you walk the streets and everything’s coming in a box, off a boat, made in La-La Land,” the article quoted. Many small businesses such as Schmalberg have disappeared. The company also sometimes gets a small order from China, to find out later that the flowers in the order were copied, mass produced, and sold more cheaply elsewhere.

Reading about this history, I could not resist buying some M. & S. Schmalberg flowers for myself and for the TRC (the flowers are available over the internet, either from the company directly or via Amazon). And next time I visit New York I will take the company’s tour of their factory. I hope this piece of textile history, and the skills involved, exist for a long time.

   

Jo Swinson’s power dress. Take it or leave it.

Jo Swinson, leader of the liberal-democrats in Britain.

Jo Swinson, leader of the liberal-democrats in Britain.

On Saturday 23 November, Willem Vogelsang wrote:

Forgive me for sometimes looking at a woman, and particularly at what she is wearing. I am a simple man, and at the same time married to a textile nutter. You may understand that the result was inevitable.

You will have heard that on 12 December the poor Brits are going again to the polls. You cannot escape these days the faces (and voices) of British politicians. One of them sticks out, as far as I am concerned, and that is not Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn. For some months now I have been following Jo Swinson, since July the leader of the Liberal Democrats in Britain. And I look at her clothing and how she presents herself. I cannot help being really impressed.

She likes to wear apparently simple dresses, often in red, and reaching to below the knees, and well buttoned up at the top. All very modest, you would say. But as a man I see a woman who is not hiding her body, certainly not her ample bosom. But I also see a woman who is proud of the way she looks and proud of who she is.

As far as I am concerned, this is real power dressing. She is not a woman, such as Angela Merkel from Germany, who is hiding underneath a man’s outfit with trousers and a jacket (that never impressed me), but someone telling the world that she is a woman and politely informing all of us that we can take it or leave it.

I may almost be twice as old as Jo Swinson, but I am sure that if I ever met her and she told me to go home to wash my hands and comb my hair, I would do so immediately.

   

Remembering the First World War

Knitted poppy to commemorate the end of the First World War, bought in Helsby, UK, November 2019.

Knitted poppy to commemorate the end of the First World War, bought in Helsby, UK, November 2019.

Yesterday, the TRC received a photograph from England of a donation that had just been put in the post to Leiden. It is a knitted poppy, recently bought in Helsby, near Chester, UK.

All over the world, and in particular in Great Britain, the armistice of 11 November 1918, 11.00 AM, is marked by people wearing a small red poppy, mostly made of paper, on the chest, to commemorate those who fell in the First World War (1914-1918).

 

 

Read more: Remembering the First World War

   

Dead Sea Scroll textiles at the TRC

The cigarette box (TRC 2019.2410) originally filled with Qumran 1 textile fragments. The hand writing is that of Elisabeth Crowfoot.

The cigarette box (TRC 2019.2410) originally filled with Qumran 1 textile fragments. The hand writing is that of Elisabeth Crowfoot.

On Saturday, 2nd November 2019, Gillian Vogelsang wrote:

In the early 1980’s, I was given a small cigarette box (TRC 2019.2410) filled with textile fragments. The box and its contents were donated by Elisabeth Crowfoot, the daughter of Grace Crowfoot and one of my teachers. It turned out that the textile fragments originated from Qumran 1, a cave in the Judaean Desert, east of Jerusalem, now in the Westbank territory, Area C.

This and other caves had become famous from the mid-1940s following the discovery of the so-called Dead Sea Scrolls, which were deposited in the caves at the beginning of our era (late 3rd century BC until 1st century AD) by a group of Jewish sectarian settlers.

The scrolls include some of the oldest known extant Hebrew texts that were later included in the Hebrew Bible, as well as many related manuscripts. In total the scrolls and fragments thereof represent some 900 different manuscripts.

Detail of a textile from Qumran Cave 1. It was used to protect one of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It dates to between 3rd cent. BC and 1st cent. AD.  The textile is made of flax, with s-spun threads, and an open tabby weave (TRC 2019.2411). The photograph was made with a Dino Lite microscope, with a magnification of x49.9.

Detail of a textile from Qumran Cave 1. It was used to protect one of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It dates to between 3rd cent. BC and 1st cent. AD. The textile is made of flax, with s-spun threads, and an open tabby weave (TRC 2019.2411). The photograph was made with a Dino Lite microscope, with a magnification of x49.9.

Almost all of the Dead Sea Scrolls are now housed in the Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

Before being deposited into the caves, the scrolls were put into pottery jars and textiles were used as padding and sometimes also as a sealing cover. After some two thousand years, the first of the jars were rediscovered in 1946.

In early 1949 the textiles from Qumran 1 were examined at the Norfolk Flax Establishment (England), and the material was identified as linen. A total of 77 plain and decorated textiles were catalogued and described by Grace Crowfoot (1879–1957) and published in 1955. It would appear that the textiles were torn up fragments of garments, such as tunics and mantles.

 

Read more: Dead Sea Scroll textiles at the TRC

   

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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. Holidays: until 11 August

Bank account number: NL39 INGB 0002 9823 59, Stichting Textile Research Centre

Entrance is free, but donations are always welcome !

TRC Gallery exhibition: 5 Sept. -19 Dec. 2019: Socks&Stockings

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Donations

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 Stichting Textile Research Centre.
 
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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