TRC Blog: Textile Moments

Syriac Orthodox community in Glane, the Netherlands

Joost Kolkman photographing Father Antonios of the Syriac Orthodox Church in the St. Ephrem monastery, Glane, the Netherlands. Thursday, 5th October 2017.

Joost Kolkman photographing Father Antonios of the Syriac Orthodox Church in the St. Ephrem monastery, Glane, the Netherlands. Thursday, 5th October 2017.

The last few months we have been helping with a small exhibition about the life and work of His Eminence, Mor Julius Yeshû Çiçek, the former Syriac Orthodox archbishop for Central Europe, at the St. Ephrem Monastery in Glane, in the Netherlands. On the 5th November there will be a memorial service at the monastery in honour of the bishop, who died on the 29th October, 2005, and was laid to rest at the monastery on the 5th November.

Thanks to the help of the Volkenkunde Museum in Leiden, two large showcases can be used to present items relating to the life of Mor Julius Yeshû Çiçek, including his calligraphy equipment and amazing artwork. There will also be three outfits that he wore and other items, such as his slippers (worn during services) that are decorated with pearls. Joost Kolkman, our indefatigable TRC photographer and web designer, Willem and myself were busy at the monastery on Thursday, sorting out items, dressing mannequins in the bishop's clothing, taking photographs of objects, buildings, statues, etc. We really enjoyed the day, working together with the ever so friendly, helpful, and very resourceful members of the community.

We also worked on the next Syriac project, which is about monastic and liturgical dress. Joost took beautiful photographs of some of the priests and monks, and their clothing.

The photograph shows the team in full swing: Joost takes a photograph of Father Antonios, I am holding up a piece of foam board to redirect the light, and Willem took this picture. In the background you can see one of the large showcases on loan from the Volkenkunde Museum in Leiden.

Gillian Vogelsang, 8th October 2017


African Textiles Study Day in Brighton

Just had a few days in Brighton on the southern coast of England. I was attending a one-day meeting on Fashioning Africa, which is a project organised by the Royal Pavilion and Museums. The Project is about looking at, talking about and collecting African fashion, both traditional/classic forms as well as items made by specific fashion designers in various countries, including Ghana and Nigeria.

The meetings were very well attended, with colleagues, students and other interested people from all over Britain (and one from Holland) attending and taking part. There were two sessions, one with lectures and an afternoon session focusing on objects. For the first time ever I was described as a global textile specialist! I quite like the title.... now to make it true. Anyway, going back to the morning talks, it was fascinating hearing from the various speakers and how they approached the subject, the question of ethical collecting, and why should a British museum collect African garments? However, the question was turned around by referring to the large Afro-British population here, therefore why would you NOT collect items that represent their cultural background?

The afternoon session was spent looking at various groups of objects and explaining some of the different ways of looking at them, why were they made, what are they saying, etc. Participants moved from one table to another. There were tables with woven, dyed, and embellished forms, and some specialists explaining. At my table (embellished), I was not sure whether I had said the same things to all the groups, or had missed things out, let alone talked about all the objects. But the questions, comments and suggestions kept me going. There were some really interesting points made.

There was also a mystery object that the museum had put on my table..... Anyway, it turned out to be an Egyptian appliqué, something I know a little about as we had an exhibition on this subject at the TRC some years ago (for the TRC digital Egyptian appliqué exhibition, click here). Quite a relief.

One thing that was clear is that people's knowledge of fashion was good, but lacking in how to recognise basics, such as what is made of cotton, what is hand sewn, different types of weaves and embellishments. It has made me really think hard about a 5-day intensive textile course just on African textiles. If you are interested let me know and I will see what we can arrange with Brighton.

It was good having the chance to talk with colleagues, see people I had not seen for a while (including several who had been to Leiden on the normal 5-day intensive textile course), and to meet with students and enthousiasts with a passion for textiles and the stories they can tell.

Gillian Vogelsang, 1st October 2017


TRC as a cultural ark

Four of the nine frames illustrating the various stages in binding and dyeing an ikat cloth.

Four of the nine frames illustrating the various stages in binding and dyeing an ikat cloth.

The last few days have been spent sorting out, tidying up and getting on with cataloguing and updating items for the TRC Collection, following the very busy week we have just gone through. Among some of the items registered is a wonderful series of frames made by the ikat weavers from Kalimantan (Borneo), who were at the TRC in August. The nine frames illustrate the various stages of setting up, binding and dyeing a set of warp threads (‘web’) using the ikat (resist, binding) technique before the coloured threads are woven into a piece of cloth.  At the same time the TRC acquired a loom used in the making of an ikat cloth, as well as an example of the finished product. All of which can be viewed on our collection online (nos. TRC 2017.3127- 2017.3129).

The design chosen by the weavers for these pieces (both on the frames and the finished item) is a stylised boat, symbolising the journey through life - both for me and the TRC. This symbol led me to think about one of the functions of the TRC, namely as a ‘Cultural Ark’, a title we were given by the Yemen Ambassador a few years ago when he came to see our Yemeni dress collection, while talking about the current civil war in the country that is causing so much havoc in so many directions.

Basically the TRC Leiden is a ‘boat’ that is home to examples of different production techniques, textiles, garments, and so forth that are not only stored here, but equally important, these items can be viewed, researched, published and exhibited, so that everyone around the globe can see them (actually or digitally), as well as preserving these objects for the future. The library, lectures and workshops are all part and parcel of the TRC experience and journey to becoming one of the most accessible cultural heritage resources (anywhere).

Over the next few weeks we are going to highlight various aspects of the TRC Collection, things that are old, new, large, small, smelly….. but all with a story to tell. Not bad for a ‘little’ institute in Leiden!

Gillian Vogelsang, 20th September 2017


Amish Plain Clothes

Amish apron, Jamesport, Missouri, USA, 2017 (TRC 2017.2999).

Amish apron, Jamesport, Missouri, USA, 2017 (TRC 2017.2999).

Jamesport, Missouri (USA), is a small farming town surrounded by hectares of maize fields. Its official population is approximately 500 people. There is one other thing you should know about Jamesport, which made it perfect for my mission of expanding the TRC’s collection of North American textiles.

Jamesport is home to the largest community of Amish people west of the Mississippi River. Some 165 Amish families live and farm around the town. You can see them driving horse-drawn buggies on the roads (the use of cars and electricity is considered too worldly). They worship according to their Anabaptist beliefs and still speak the German dialect their ancestors did when they first came to North America in the 1700s. They also wear a distinctive form of clothing that they call ‘plain’ or ‘simple’ dress.

I wanted to buy some examples of this clothing for the TRC. Amish clothing is unadorned, in muted colours. The women wear ankle-length dresses, with an apron and bonnet; the men long trousers with shoulder straps. The clothing appears old fashioned in the 21st century and immediately distinguishes the wearer as a community member.

Pair of trousers for an Amish man, from Jamesport, Missouri, USA, 2017 (TRC 2017.2986).

Pair of trousers for an Amish man, from Jamesport, Missouri, USA, 2017 (TRC 2017.2986).

It was easy to find Amish quilts for sale in Jamesport. This distinctive style is immediately recognizable: dark colours (except for the pattern known as Star of Bethlehem or Broken Star), no checks or prints, with a centre dominated by an abstract motif, frequently of bars or stripes or blocks, with wide, unadorned borders. Amish quilts are also very collectible and sell for USD 1000 to USD 2000.

Amish clothing, however, wasn’t so easy to find. Fortunately, two shops in Jamesport gave me the same advice: drive down the hill for three miles, cross the railroad tracks, and look for the first building on the left. The directions were spot on: inside this shop were rows and rows of used Amish clothing, plus pickles, preserves, and other home goods for sale.

All the clothes were of a synthetic mix (except for a few pairs of denim trousers), and were of factory woven material. The clothes were also all skilfully home made, except for the men’s long sleeved white shirts (TRC 2017.2981), which were factory-made. Male trousers (TRC 2017.2982, 2017.2986) had a buttoned fall-front flap, with pockets and shoulder straps in the same material. While trousers for adult males and younger boys had buttons, some clothes for infants (TRC 2017.2984 and 2017.2983) used metal snaps. Many Amish consider zippers too worldly and will not use them.

While the male clothes showed no personal embellishments, there were small differences in some of the adult women’s dresses (TRC 2017.2995a, 2996, 2998). Almost all were loose fitting and ankle length, in solid pastel colours (primarily blue, grey, and green), with no prints or checks. Some featured a yoke or bib in the same material and most had a pocket. Sometimes an apron was made of the same material as the dress. While all the sleeves reached below the elbow, some women had made close-fitting cuffs, others loose. On some dresses a thin strip of the dress material has been sewn around the cuffs, a discreet embellishment. I did find one unfinished woman’s white dress with thin stripes (TRC 2017.2997), which made me curious about its story. All the clothes can be seen in the TRC’s on-line catalogue at

18th September 2017, by Shelley Anderson


Opening of the Central Asia exhibition, and much more

Opening of the TRC exhibition "Dressing the 'Stans', 12th September 2017, by Prof. Peter Frankopan.

Opening of the TRC exhibition "Dressing the 'Stans', 12th September 2017, by Prof. Peter Frankopan.

This last week has been extremely busy thanks to a wide range of activities taking place at the TRC Leiden. Monday was spent putting the last touches to our new exhibition called Dressing the ‘Stans’: Textiles, clothing and jewellery from Central Asia. This exhibition was created as part of the Asia Year celebrations in Leiden that culminated in the opening of the Leiden University’s new Asia Library by H.R.H. Queen Maxima of the Netherlands.

The TRC exhibition (which was not opened by the Queen), was in fact opened on Tuesday by Prof. Peter Frankopan, Oxford University and author of the now famous book The Silk Roads (2015). Prof. Frankopan gave a short, but very much to the point, talk about the important role of textiles, especially silk, in linking cultures and groups together over the centuries. The exhibition will be on display until mid-December, so you will have ample chance to see it. In addition, in a few weeks’ time a digital version of the exhibition will appear on the TRC digital exhibition list (which is getting longer and longer with a range of very different exhibitions!).

Dressing the 'Stans' exhibition, from 12th September until 22 December 2017.

Dressing the 'Stans' exhibition, from 12th September until 22 December 2017.

Anyway back to Tuesday, the opening was followed by a light buffet, which gave everyone the chance to talk with Prof. Frankopan and to see the exhibition. Various guests promised items from home for the TRC Collection. Speaking of which, we were offered some Dutch regional dress items from one family from Nieuwland (Nieuw- en Sint Joosland) in the south of the Netherlands. Thanks to the generosity of one of the ‘Friends of the TRC’ who was at the opening, these items will be coming to the TRC next week and will enhance our growing Dutch regional dress collection.

Wednesday was spent with visitors to the exhibition, sorting out administration and getting my lecture ready for the following day. Thursday was spent meeting people at the Pieterskerk Leiden, following the opening of the Asia Library by Her Majesty. I was also able to talk with more people about the TRC (including the new British Ambassador to The Netherlands). Networking and getting the message about the TRC known to a wide range of people is important! And yes, we were offered as a donation some more textiles by an elderly lady whose father and mother collected embroideries and other items from Asia.

In the afternoon I gave a lecture as part of the Opening celebrations. To my surprise, it was a full house and people were standing (well one person was, but as it was Peter Frankopan, I am not complaining!). It was fun to talk about the exhibition and what we are doing to such an interested group.

Friday was spent tidying up, photographing and cataloguing some items from Turkey related to the Syriac Orthodox Church, as well as Afghan garments and textiles kindly given by May and Rolando Schinasi from Nice in France (all these are now online, see our catalogue). We also sorted out and sent off a grant proposal to the Prins Bernhard Cultuur Fonds. This proposal is all part of a really exciting project that the TRC recently got involved in – if you are a knitting fanatic and interested in a challenge, please keep an eye on the TRC website! I can say no more at the moment, but it's BIG.

And now to find twice as much space and four times the amount of money to house, present and enjoy everything! But before all of that happens, a cup of tea and a biscuit are required.

Gillian Vogelsang, Saturday 16th September 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 !

Current exhibition: For a few sacks more ...., until 28th June

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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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