TRC Blog: Textile Moments

Australian convict shirt

Slopshirt or convict shirt, Australia, c. 1840. Photograph Jamie North

Slopshirt or convict shirt, Australia, c. 1840. Photograph Jamie North

Spending a few days in Adelaide, I visited this afternoon a really marvellous exhibition in the Art Gallery of Southern Australia, called Treasure Ships: Art in the Age of the Spices. On display are beautiful examples of textiles from India and Indonesia, plus many other precious objects, including paintings, drawings, weapons, etc., all relating to the extensive trade networks in the Indian Ocean and beyond, from between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries. I must admit, it still 'touches' me to see objects so closely linked to my Dutch ancestors who played such a prominent role in these networks, although, politically correct as I am supposed to be (a position not lost in some of the texts that accompany the exhibition), I also realise that many things they did were not always particularly very nice. But then, no one is perfect.

An object that stirred my imagination (and which was a bit of an anomaly among the other objects) was a so-called slop shirt, a type of garment worn by the British convicts that were sent to Australia in the early days of European settlement over there. This example was accidentally found in 1980 during restoration works at the Hyde Park barracks, now a World Heritage site in Sydney. The shirt dates to c. 1840. Two of such shirts were issued to the convicts each year, I learnt from the catalogue. The same catalogue tells me that the textiles for the shirts came from India, but the sewing of the shirts was done by female convicts in Australia.

Most of the shirts, including the illustrated example, were 'decorated' with stripes, to clearly indicate the status of the wearer. The striped pyjamas worn by the prisoners in the German concentration camps have their direct precedents !

Willem Vogelsang, 8 July 2015

 

   

German student fraternity caps

Group of (ex)students with their Mütze (cap) in front of the Lambertikirche, Münster, Germany, 24 May 2015

Group of (ex)students with their Mütze (cap) in front of the Lambertikirche, Münster, Germany, 24 May 2015

Last weekend Gillian and I spent a few days in Münster, Germany, where on Sunday morning we watched all over town young and older men (not women !) with rather conspicuous caps walking around, and actually congregating at the St. Lambert's Church (Lambertikirche) in the centre of town for what we thought was a special church service. These caps are really characteristic. Some of them have a brim in front, others not, but for the rest they seem pretty uniform and they are certainly very colourful. Student fraternities, or Studenten-verbindungen, are still wide-spread in Germany and other (former) German speaking countries. Many of them date back to the early 19th century. Students who join these fraternities often remain in contact with each other throughout their lives. The caps (Mütze or Deckel) constitute an important part of their traditional outfit (Couleur), only worn, so we may assume, at important communal events. For more information, see http://de.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Studentenm%C3%BCtze 

Willem Vogelsang, 30 May 2015

   

The world's oldest working planetarium: thanks to textiles

The world’s oldest working planetarium, built between 1774 and 1781, was in fact made possible by textiles. The planetarium in Franeker (the Netherlands) was built by wool comber Eise Eisinga (1744-1828) in his own home. There is a display, with video, about the processing of wool in the back of the house where Eisinga used to live and where we now find the planetarium.

The display includes a life size comb stove or pot, where the combs were heated before use. Heating made the combs move through the wool more easily. Combing made the long fibres (called ‘sleevers’) lie parallel to each other, so they could be spun. Combing also separated sleevers from short fibres (called ‘noils’), which could not be spun. The sleevers would then be drawn through a ring or disc to ensure they were the same length.

Eisinga also dyed the wool, and won an international prize in Ghent in 1820 for this skill. He used dyes made from alum, logwood, brazilwood, madder, sumac and indigo, among other substances alum, logwood, brazilwood, madder, sumac and indigo, among other substances.

See for instance the YouTube film: https://youtu.be/NcbDH1u_I1c

Shelley Anderson, 24 May 2015

   

Textiles and Politics

On the recent acquisition by the TRC of a very special blouse, TRC volunteer Shelley Anderson writes: “Textiles tell stories, and some textiles tell stories more clearly than others. I saw an example of this recently at a women’s peace conference, held in April 2015, the Hague (the Netherlands). There was a market place at the conference, where women’s groups could sell things (candy bars, posters, publications, etc.) in order to raise money for their work. A group of women from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had commissioned a printed fabric with the conference’s logo and title on it. They had made blouses and bags from the factory woven cotton fabric. This reflects a long tradition throughout Africa of marking political, social and sometimes personal events through textiles. It is one of these blouses that is now on display at the TRC.

These objects were commissioned by the Congolese section of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). The roller printed motifs on the fabric included a blue circle with a dove, the logo of the WILPF, which had organized the conference to celebrate its 100th anniversary. The conference’s title “Women’s Power to Stop War: Uniting a Global Movement” is also portrayed on the fabric along with the names of countries around the world.

The crinkled look of the fabric imitates batik. In the 19th century, wax resist dyed fabrics (batik) from Indonesia became popular along Africa’s Gold Coast (modern Ghana). The wax print spread throughout West Africa and into Central Africa and remains popular today.

But there’s even more to the story. The 2015 WILPF conference celebrated the organisation’s founding at an International Congress of Women also held in the Hague in April 1915. There, some 1,130 women suffrage activists, from twelve different countries (many of the countries then at war with one another), met to try to stop World War 1. Their governments denied them passports, threatened to jail them—the British government suspended ferry service in the North Sea to prevent these “blundering Englishwomen”, these “Pro-Hun Peacettes”, as they were labelled in the media, from attending.

One month before World War 1 began, delegates from the International Women Suffrage Alliance (IWSA) delivered a Manifesto to all European embassies, and the British Foreign Office, in London. This Manifesto called on governments “to leave untried no method of conciliation or arbitration for arranging international differences which may help to avert deluging half the civilized world in blood.” The delegates came up with a 20 point peace plan. It was printed in English, French and German and addressed to European government leaders and to the US Congress. Copies were sent to prime ministers throughout Europe; in Germany alone, hundreds of copies were sent to politicians, prominent citizens, and civic organizations. The plan demanded a permanent international court of justice; “democratic control of foreign policy”; a delinking of business interests with political institutions; a Society of Nations where member states could settle disputes nonviolently; general disarmament; and the political enfranchisement of women.

Five women, including the influential Dutch activist Dr. Aletta Jacobs, were elected to spend the next few months lobbying foreign ministers and the heads of state of nearly every country in Europe. They had a private audience with the Pope and spoke with US President Woodrow Wilson, who incorporated some of the Women's Congress’s demands in his famous Fourteen Points policy.

The history of one simple blouse can tell a story that spans centuries!

For more on the history of the 1915 Congress, see A. Wiltshire’s Most Dangerous Women: Feminist Peace Campaigners of the Great War (Pandora Press, London, 1985). The Congress’s papers can be seen on-line at www.peacepalacelibrary.nl. For more information about the 2015 conference see www.womenstopwar.org.

24 May 2015

   

Opening Textielfestival, Leiden

Op woensdag 13 mei werd het Nationale Textiel Festival feestelijk ingeluid in de Leidse Pieterskerk. Tijdens de opening, door burgemeester Henri Lenferink, vond de prijsuitreiking plaats van de internationale wedstrijd ‘Water-Land’. Van alle inzendingen waren er 54 geselecteerd. Vele bezoekers bewonderden deze prachtige kunstwerken van verschillende materialen. Veel aandacht trok de Haagse kunstenaar Lichel van den Ende met zijn performance ‘Selfcantus’.

In de Pieterskerk toonden vele professionele kunstenaars hun werk. Er werden techniekdemonstraties gegeven, o.a. kantklossen, weven, speciale borduurtechnieken, quilten en nog veel meer. Men kon ook diverse korte workshops volgen. Verder was er gelegenheid voor restauratie adviezen en taxatie. Ook de kraampjes met textielbenodigdheden waren aanwezig. Niet alleen in de Pieterskerk was het een drukte van belang. Ook de vele adressen van de textielroute werden druk bezocht. Over vijf jaar is er weer een Textiel Festival, misschien weer in Leiden.

Tineke Moerkerk, 17 May 2015

   

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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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