TRC Blog: Textile Moments

Workshop Palestinian embroidery

Karin Scheper's sample of Palestinian embroidery, made during the TRC workshop and finished at home.

Karin Scheper's sample of Palestinian embroidery, made during the TRC workshop and finished at home.

In the latest edition of the monthly TRC Wednesday morning workshop series, on the 24th of February, no less than twelve persons attended the workshop on Palestinian embroidery. Gillian (Vogelsang-Eastwood) introduced us to this specific needlework tradition with an informative and well illustrated PowerPoint, which provided a lot of historical background information and gave us insight in the regional varieties. In addition, there were plenty examples of textiles that we could touch and scrutinize, before we started on the making of our own samples. The tables with the laid out pieces of cloth, threads and designs were set amidst dressed mannequins, for further inspiration. As in the other workshops that I attended so far, participants could choose between the levels fairly simple, somewhat experienced and advanced, and all the materials to make our own samples were well prepared. For me, the goal of practicing is to obtain a better understanding of the materials and techniques, to try and learn things I didn’t know before, and quite simply to enjoy the textile artifacts. The easy-going atmosphere makes it all the more enjoyable, and so does the stimulating presence of the real artifacts and the presence of knowledge (and, as a bonus, we had the possibility of a sneak preview of the Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World!).

Karin Scheper, 29 February 2016


Hakama from Japan: An intriguing new acquisition for the TRC collection

Women wearing red hakama at Shinto shrine

Women wearing red hakama at Shinto shrine

A few days ago the TRC was able to acquire a small collection of Japanese garments that used to belong to Dr Erika de Poorter, who was a specialist of the Japanese Noh theatre at Leiden University. Among the various kimonos, there was a special item, namely a divided skirt (hakama) in dark red silk. Hakama are still worn by men as part of the traditional outfit for special and formal occasions; the red cloth of our hakama, however, suggests that the trousers were made for a woman. Hakama are worn by musicians and stage attendants of the Noh theatre, but this is still very much a man’s world and it is not likely that Erika picked up her hakama in this context.

Female graduates wearing hakama, Japan

Female graduates wearing hakama, Japan

But women do wear hakama on certain occasions. Miko (Shinto shrine maidens) wear the same outfit as their male counterparts, but in different colours. Women who practice traditional martial arts, such as kendo and archery, also wear hakama, but usually in the ‘male’ grey, black or dark blue. Finally, hakama are worn by women at university graduation ceremonies, often with Victorian-style booties. When compulsory education was introduced in Japan at the end of the 19th century, boys were soon required to wear military-style uniforms. Girls, however, still wore kimono. Because this was far from practical, the hakama was introduced for them: it looked like a skirt, but offered pant-like functionality. The graduation hakama is a nostalgic reminder of these early days of female education.

Anna Beerens, 1 February 2016







Afghan football-star, a real one

Murtaza Ahmadi with his Messi T-shirt. Photograph by his brother.

Murtaza Ahmadi with his Messi T-shirt. Photograph by his brother.

Believe it or not, I know just about nothing about football, apart from the scandals surounding this Swiss bloke and his cronies who seem to have made an awful lot of money out of a simple game. But I do follow the news about Afghanistan and this week there was something in the media that was really nice. A young boy in Ghazni province, not exactly the place to go on holiday, was photographed with a plastic bag as a T-shirt with written on it the name of Messi. Because of the Afghan boy I now know that Messi is a famous football player; I have no idea where and how, and when, but that does not matter. For the Afghan lad Messi is a star, and he is very proud of showing Messi's name. I think the boy is the real star. I understand he is only five years old. His 15-year old brother made him the T-shirt with the name of Messi written on it with a marker pen. Then the brother took a photograph and put it on Facebook. That was some two weeks ago. And that photograph went, as it is called, ' viral'. In the end it was the boy's uncle that recognised the boy. The uncle lives in Australia, another reminder of the Afghan diaspora and the fate of the Afghan people. It is a smile, in an otherwise desperate situation.

Willem Vogelsang, 31 January 2016


Embroidery stamps from Taiwan

Embroidered Qing-period curtain, with postage stamp inserted. Taiwan, modern.

Embroidered Qing-period curtain, with postage stamp inserted. Taiwan, modern.

This morning I had the honour to welcome the new visiting professor in Taiwan Studies to the International Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden. We had a long chat, and at the end my Taiwanese guest and his wife gave me some little presents. When I opened one of them, it happened to be a booklet with a long and folded sheet of thin, gold painted paper, into which five postage stamps are marked out, dated to 2013. The sheet carries a reproduction of a Qing period curtain that is now housed in the National Museum of History, Taipei. The curtain is decorated with embroidery showing flowers and birds, against a background of rich red silk with more flowers, birds, grass, trees, clouds, rocks and other delicately embroidered motifs. It is regarded, according to the accompanying text, as one of the Qing Dynasty's greatest pieces of embroidered art.

This curtain is in reality almost five metres long. The composition centers on an eye-catching peacock. Called "Ode to the Great Earth", the theme of the curtain offers a colourful and beautiful vista of blooming flowers and brightly coloured birds, heralding the arrival of spring. Indeed, a worthy subject for embroidery, and for stamps!

Willem Vogelsang, 22 January 2016


Chester Cathedral

Chester cathedral, embroidered hearse cloth

Chester cathedral, embroidered hearse cloth

Willem and I are in Chester, England, for a few days and could not resist going to the Cathedral, among others to see if they had any embroideries. They are there, but you need to search for them! There is a late 19th century central altar frontal (high altar) made from a cream damask ground with an art nouveau style design of three trees with intertwining grape vines, leaves and bunches of grapes, flanked by small bushes, possibly olive ones, but that was not clear. Tucked away in one corner (see photograph) is a 19th century hearse cloth with a blue silk damask ground, embroidered with couched gold thread (passings). The design is hard to see, as it has been placed on a wooden roller inside a wooden case, but there are bishop's crosier with what looks like a W alternating with lilies, as well as coats of arms.

In another part of the Cathedral there is an appliqué dedicated to the United Nations that is a commissoned piece dating to AD 2000. For the Christmas period there was an appliqué panel depicting the Chester Mystery Plays, a series of medieval plays based upon the life and death of Jesus Christ. In this case, it was the Chester series, depicted with buildings from the centre of the city. A bit of fun, and nicely done. There were also several large-scale, appliqué banners, depicting Mary and Child, as well as the the Creation (stars, birds and fishes).

Finally, in a chapel dedicated to the Cheshire regiments, there are a number of flags, with regimental honours. Some of the flags look as if they date from the early 19th century and were embroidered with the names of various battles. But they were so high up it was difficult to be sure.

But what about vestments? Alas nothing was on view, the various people we asked said: yes, there are vestments, but they were not sure what, where, or whether they were embroidered. A cathedral with the history of Chester's should have embroideries and vestments dating back several centuries, if not longer. I will be persuing this and trying to find out what they have. My curiosity has been piqued!! Chester beware.

Gillian Vogelsang, 2 January 2016


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