TRC Blog: Textile Moments

Is fast fashion slowing dwn?

On Sunday, 24 February 2019, TRC volunteer Alice Jaspars wites:

The world is moving quicker than ever before, and fashion is getting faster with it. It is now possible to buy an entire ensemble (shoes included) for under 20 euros from a high street retailer. But the environmental and societal cost of such an outfit is something which has reached increasing media attention, especially in the past weeks. With many pledging not to buy from the high street due to its lack of sustainability, 2019 seems to mark an interesting turning point in the way we consume our clothes.

There are two schools of thought with regards to being more environmentally and socially conscientious in fashion. The first is that which suggests that all new clothing produced ought to be procured from so-called ‘sustainable retailers’, those who ensure that all attire is made in the most environmentally friendly way possible, from the water used, to the way the machines are powered. These brands are often expensive, with t-shirts costing some 50 euros, and are often extremely limited in the styles they offer. This prohibits many from shopping sustainably in this manner.

The second school of thought, and the one I confess to following, is that which favours second hand clothing. From Kringloops to charity shops, these offer a cheaper and arguably more effective way to shop in a sustainable manner. It is estimated that by 2022 some 40% of our wardrobes will consist of second hand material, a reason to be hopeful. With the average t-shirt going for a euro a piece, there seems little reason to stray anywhere else. There are also far more opportunities to invest in quality pieces, and well-known brands, with my own wardrobe being aided by pieces from Burberry, YSL and Hermes (to name but a few), all second hand. Besides – it’s far more fun this way. Nothing will ever feel as good as being able to say ‘This, oh, it’s vintage’.

   

Robert J. Charleston letters

TRC volunteer, Alice Jaspars, studying the Robert Charleston correspondence housed in the TRC library (February 2019).

TRC volunteer, Alice Jaspars, studying the Robert Charleston correspondence housed in the TRC library (February 2019).

On Sunday, 24 February 2019, Alice Jaspars wrote:

Robert J. Charleston (1916-1994) was one of the leading experts on glass in the United Kingdom and was Keeper of Glass and Ceramics at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The current archive of Charleston’s letters stored at the TRC Leiden details his lesser known passion for textiles, with correspondence both to and from him. His letters detail an interest in pursuing a PhD in the subject of the archaeology of textiles, though unfortunately this never came to fruition. 

I have transcribed some thirty letters of Charleston now, most pertaining to his desire to publish a particular article during the Second World War, but facing issues due to paper rationing. The style and content of his letters make the transcription far more of pleasure than a task.

Thanks to the TRC’s director, Dr Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, we are now privileged to have this extensive correspondence between Charleston and other prominent figures, from the early 1940s onwards.

The archive is exceptional as we have both the letters written to, and the letters from Charleston, in almost perfect and precise chronological order. Having transcribed only a fraction of his letters thus far, it is clear that Charleston exhibits a tremendous intellect, ranging from assorted types of fabric, to the way in which he interacts with various well-known academics of textiles of the day.

Whilst I have only been able to transcribe a portion of the letters to date, I hope to use them as a basis for considering the ways in which relevant individuals from the time interacted with one another, and the way in which the knowledge of the time was developed into more personal correspondence such as these.

I will keep the blog up to date with any work of particular interest or of note.

   

A remarkable woman

 British postage stamp with embroidery motif of oranges and orange blossom, designed and worked by May Morris (TRC 2018.3365).

British postage stamp with embroidery motif of oranges and orange blossom, designed and worked by May Morris (TRC 2018.3365).

Shelley Anderson writes on Saturday 23 February 2019:

A recent acquisition of the TRC sent me scurrying to the Internet to find out more. The object was a small (3.5 x 3.5 cm) British postal stamp with an image of a beautifully embroidered orange branch with flowers and fruit (TRC 2018.3365). The stamp also has the text “Mary 'May' Morris 1862-1938. Designer and textile artist". May Morris had designed and executed the image, from silks on a linen background, in the 1880s.

Mary ‘May’ Morris was the youngest daughter of Arts and Crafts movement leader and designer William Morris. She had an unconventional childhood and was taught embroidery by her mother and her aunt. She also studied embroidery at art school and at the age of 23 became the Director of the Embroidery Department at her father's business. She was an able manager and designer, in addition to her own considerable skills in needlework, creating both ecclesiastical and household objects.

She researched older styles of embroidery, in particular the famous medieval needlework of England (Opus Anglicanum), in order to develop a more free-style fine technique which came to be known as art needlework. Later in life she taught embroidery at art schools throughout England, including the Royal School of Art Needlework (now the Royal School of Needlework), mentoring many other women who later established their own names in embroidery. In 1907, when guilds such as the Art Workers Guild refused to accept women, she founded a new association, the Women’s Guild of Arts.

As if this were not enough, she also made a name for herself as a designer, creating designs for jewellery, wall paper, textiles and more. Concerned about the status of women and workers, she was an active socialist all her life. In her later years she collected and published 24 volumes of her father’s works, thus securing his name in history, in addition to writing her own books and plays. She lived the last few decades of her life with a woman companion in a home designed in the Arts and Crafts style. “I’m a remarkable woman,” she wrote in 1936 to her ex-lover, playwright George Bernard Shaw, “always was, though none of you seemed to think so.” A remarkable woman indeed, who is finally getting the credit she deserves.

   

Two Chinese dolls

Chinese male doll, 1920s or 1930s (TRC 2019.0194).

Chinese male doll, 1920s or 1930s (TRC 2019.0194).

Saturday, 9 February 2019. TRC volunteer Francesco Montuori writes:

Last week, the Textile Research Centre enriched its collection with two interesting pieces: a couple of wooden Chinese dolls.

Normally the TRC does not take dolls but there was something about them that was intriguing. They came with the information that they dated to about 1900 and were intended to be used for funeral purposes.

One of the dolls is male (TRC 2019.0194) and dressed in Chinese style garments, including an embroidered gown in violet silk decorated with an embroiderd vase of flowers and a typical black silk cap (see for example TRC 2004.0087) on his head.

The second doll is female (TRC 2019.0195) and also has an embroidered gown in tangerine orange silk and decorated with flowers and butterflies. She is also wearing a large collar edged with fur. Her face covered in white make-up and she has prominent red lips. Her headdress is quite elaborate.

Chinese female doll, 1920s or 1930s (TRC 2019.0195).

Chinese female doll, 1920s or 1930s (TRC 2019.0195).

This type of doll is usually known in the Western world as a ‘Chinese Opera Doll’, although it would seem that they were not related with opera theatre at all. Instead it would appear that such dolls were associated with the many orphanages opened by various Christian missions in China. In fact, in the 18th and 19th centuries, numerous missionary associations from Northern America and Europe were active in the country to promulgate Christianity.

Among their initiatives was the establishment of many orphanages, in order to host abandoned or orphaned children in major cities of the country, such as Shanghai. The dolls were given to girls in the orphanages who crafted their dresses and embroidered them, in order to raise money for the maintenance of the orphanage itself.

Unfortunately, due to the lack of information about these two dolls, it is difficult to allocate them to a specific city or missionary activity. What is clear is that more research needs to be carried out to understand the economic and social history of this ‘small’ aspect of Chinese material culture.

   

Scandinavian doll?

Doll in regional dress, probably mid-19th century, from Scandinavia? (TRC 2019.0196).

Doll in regional dress, probably mid-19th century, from Scandinavia? (TRC 2019.0196).

Friday 8th February, Gillian Vogelsang writes:

Often the TRC is asked if we know what this is or where does that come from, and many times we can help out. We now have a little puzzle for you!

We have recently been given a doll dressed in regional dress. The head and hands are made out of carved wood that has been hand painted, while the body, arms and legs are made out of stuffed cloth. The headdress is elaborately made with various different types of cloth.

The front and back of her dress are embroidered, and she has a large bag with a crucifix hanging from her left waist. Under her dress there is a petticoat and drawers made out of white cotton decorated with bobbin lace. Her shoes are in the style of 18th century slippers with metal buckles.

We think that the doll may date from c. 1860, based on the textiles, and that it may possibly come from Scandinavia. Does anyone know where she comes from? Any suggestions are welcome.

   

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

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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 Stichting Textile Research Centre.
 
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