TRC Blog: Textile Moments

My grandfather in Cologne, 1919

Embroidered postcard, TRC 2017.2571.

Embroidered postcard, TRC 2017.2571.

Family history tells that my maternal grandfather, Francis Redvers Collings, was one of the first British soldiers to enter the German city of Cologne after the ceasefire of 11th November 1918, which in fact ended the First World War. British troops first entered the German Rhineland on 3rd December 1918. The British Army of the Rhine would remain in Germany until 1929, with their headquarters in Cologne. I mention this because the TRC last week acquired an embroidered postcard with the text "1919 Souvenir of Cologne" (TRC 2017.2571).

This postcard was produced in the tradition of the First World War postcards, which were sent home by the Allied forces fighting in the trenches of northern France and elsewhere. We already discussed these postcards in a blog from October 2015. The cards were often decorated with patriotic symbols, including the flags of the Allied forces. This particular postcard also shows these flags, being incorprated into the year 1919. There are the flags from Belgium, France, Great Britain, Italy, Japan and the USA.

This silk card, plus others from the TRC Collection, will shortly be part of a series of digital exhibitions that highlight different aspects of the TRC's collection.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 1st July 2017.

PS. By the way, my grandfather's middle name refers to General Sir Redvers Henry Buller (VC), the Commander-in-Chief of the British forces during the first few months of the Second Boer War in South Africa.


New acquisitions from Cambodia and Ethiopia

The last week has brought some very different and varied items to the TRC. While we are continuing cataloguing the (vast) collection of textiles from the 20th century that were recently given to the TRC by Pepin van Rooijen (Amsterdam), we had some other items come in that we thought you might like to know about.

Detail of Cambodian silver thread textile, mid-20th century. TRC 2017.2572 2.

Detail of Cambodian silver thread textile, mid-20th century. TRC 2017.2572 2.

A Cambodian silver textile with a Dutch connection (TRC 2017.2572)

This is a another textile with a royal connection! Some years ago we were given an early 19th century lace shawl once owned by the Dutch queen, Anna Pavlovna (TRC 2014.0831). Now we have been given a length of purple with silver thread cloth that was given to Mrs. Eygenstein, Amsterdam by the Cambodian prince, Norodom Sondeth, a cousin to the then king, Norodom Sihanouk (1922-2012) and at that time the Cambodian Minister of Foreign Affairs. The textile was given as a 'thank you' to Mrs. Eygenstein following his stay in The Netherlands in 1952.

Mrs. Eygenstein was the translator for the prince and during his visit helped him in purchasing film and still cameras (a Hasselblad), as well as a motor bike (which he later crashed). The Eygenstein family and the prince stayed in contact for some years and he also sent a letter expressing his concern and regret for the Dutch people during the devastating floods of 1953 that killed hundreds of people, especially in Zeeland in the southern part of the country. They then lost contact, but in 1970's Mrs. Eygenstein tried to reach him again, but heard that he along with other, lesser members of the Cambodian royal family had been murdered by the Khmer Rouge, the communist group that came to power in 1975 under the command of Pol Pot.

The silver textile will be on display at the TRC in September as part of the Asia Year celebrations in Leiden. We would like to thank Mrs. Eygenstein's daughter, Mrs. Corretje Eijgenstein, for so very kindly giving this and other Asian textiles to the TRC. In particular she also gave a very large felt from Kyrgyzstan, which will be on display in the TRC Gallery as part of its Central Asian exhibition that opens on the 12th September.

Pair of Ethiopian trousers with embroidered legs, second half 20th century. TRC 2017.2570.

Pair of Ethiopian trousers with embroidered legs, second half 20th century. TRC 2017.2570.

Ethiopian embroidered trousers (TRC 2017.2567- 2017.2570)

On the same day that we were given the Cambodian and Central Asian textiles the TRC also acquired four pairs of men's trousers from Ethiopia. These date to the latter half of the 20th century and are associated with the Amhara people, from the northern and central highlands of the country.

Three of the trousers are made from narrow bands of locally woven cotton and they have been embroidered with circles, zig-zags and interlacing knots using various stitches, including chain stitch. The fourth pair is made from black machine woven cloth and embroidered using machine produced chain stitch. The TRC is slowly building up its collection of African textiles and garments, and these trousers add a new dimension to our holdings.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 1st July 2017


Two thousand new books for the TRC library

The TRC has received a donation of some two thousand books for the ever-growing TRC library. Read more about this amazing gift, which will be added to the existing collection of almost 3000 publications on textiles and textile studies already catalogued.

Read more: Two thousand new books for the TRC library


Dressing the Church: Syriac Orthodox Church vestments and textiles

Saint Ephrem Monastery of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Glane, The Netherlands.

Saint Ephrem Monastery of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Glane, The Netherlands.

The last few days have been very different for Willem and me. We spent the time in the Saint Ephrem, Syriac Orthodox Monastery in Glane in the east of the Netherlands. We had been invited to come to the monastery by HE Mor Polycarpus Augin Aydin, metropolitan bishop for the Syriac Orthodox Church in The Netherlands, following the opening of the TRC’s current exhibition about dress and diversity in the Middle East. An important part of the exhibition included Syriac monastic and liturgical garments and H.E. Mor Polycarpus officially opened the exhibition.

Many of the Syriac garments on display in the exhibition were donated by members of the Church and represent different levels, from monk and nun to bishop. Many of the items are embroidered in Turkey, but some are decorated in Kerala (India), where there is a large Syriac community. In addition we have just been given several (secular) outfits for a Syriac woman from the eastern part of Turkey. All of these items can be found in the TRC Collection database.

One of the main reasons for our visit is that the monastery wants to make a display of items relating to the life and work of the former Metropolitan Bishop, Mor Julius Yeshu Çiçek, who played an important role in the setting up of the Syriac Church in Europe and in The Netherlands in particular. The TRC has been asked to help with the display, which will include garments actually worn by the Bishop. The display will be opened on the 5th November 2017. In addition we have been asked to write a booklet about dress within the Syriac community and especially the monastic and liturgical forms. An exciting project indeed.

As part of this work we spent several days at the monastery and were able to attend various monastic services as well as a wedding and a baptism (of children and adults). We have also been given permission to ask a wide range of questions about the monastic way of life and the role of clothing as part of our research for the publication - ‘Dressing the Church’. We will be going back to the monastery in early July (just before we set off for India on another textile mission), to continue this work and see objects belonging to Mor Julius Yeshu Çiçek that will be used in the display. As you can imagine our list of questions is growing, but it will make the TRC’s collection of Syriac dress even more significant, when everything is put into context.

Gillian Vogelsang, 18th June 2017.


Garments made out of flour sacks

I never thought I would get excited about printed sacks, but my interest in flour and food sacks and how they were used over the decades is increasing! I wrote in an early blog about a Canadian printed flour bag (TRC 2017.0422), which was sent to Belgium during the First World War (1914-1918), where it was embroidered by refugees. Thousands of similar bags made the same trip and some were then shipped back to Canada and the USA where they were given away as souvenirs, as well as sold in order to raise more money for buying and sending food to Belgium.

This item came with a group of embroideries given to the TRC by Pepin van Rooijen of Pepin Press, Amsterdam. Last week the TRC was given another group of textiles by Pepin, which included over thirty printed food sacks from the USA (for instance TRC 2017.1360). These were large bags made of cotton that were used for corn, flour, sugar, rice, and so forth in the USA and Canada.

Bag and sack producers soon discovered that if the cotton sacks were decorated with a colourful printed design, then people would buy their bags (and contents). By the 1920’s garments and household objects (such as curtains and quilts) made out of these food sacks became an economic necessity in many poorer families. With the Great Depression of the 1930’s even more families depended on these sacks to provide basic textile necessities for family and household use. The sacks came in various sizes and qualities depending on what was being stored in them – flour bags tended to be a finer cloth than, for example, those used for maize or sugar.

Most sacks were between 75-110 cm in length and 45-50 cm wide when folded in half (to create the sack). Lengths of cloth can often be identified as ex-food sacks by a line of course sewing (or the resulting needle holes) along two edges. Sometimes the name of the manufacturer was also printed onto the cloth (often using a washable ink), while on other occasions a pre-printed label was used that could be peeled off.

Mexican flour sack, TRC 2014.0194

Mexican flour sack, TRC 2014.0194

The designs used for the food sacks varied considerably – with each printing companying vying to get the most popular designs and so sell the most cloth to the food sellers. The patterns ranged from stripes geometric shapes, stylised flowers to images of pigs, horse racing and cowboys at work. The cheaper ones were in one colour, while more up market variations had two or three colours.

By the 1940’s thousands of metres of cloth were being printed each year to supply the need for decorative food sacks that could be bought, swapped and generally saved until enough pieces of the right colour and design were acquired that could be made into garments, such as underwear, dresses, skirts, blouses, aprons and head coverings. In order to encourage people/women to make more of such garments, various booklets were published on how to make the most out of these printed lengths of material. There were also large and popular annual competitions for the best and most ingenious use of such sacks. Courses were taught at local colleges and in people’s homes in how to make sacks into garments for domestic use, as well as for sale.

The production of printed food sacks stopped in the 1960’s as people became more affluent and paper, later plastic, bags took over the role of the printed cloth forms. But for many (older) people the role of food sack garments remains a powerful reminder of their childhood and the important role of make-do and mend and not to waste anything that can be re-used.

While looking for more information and examples, I suddenly remembered that there are three Mexican flour sacks in the TRC Collections (for instance TRC 2014.0194), as well as a blouse made from a flour sack (TRC 2015.0192). I also came across, in the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection, some early 20th century images of Syrian and Armenian refugee children (probably in Lebanon) wearing USA flour sacks, and of poor Americans in the southern states of the USA wearing similar sacks.

What is certain is that looking at a ‘humble’ flour or food sack will never be the same. The social and economic history as well as ingenuity and skills of people who made clothing from ‘nothing’ is highlighted by these sacks and the finished garments. We hope to have a small exhibition about these and similar garments in the future at the TRC, so if you have any examples of printed flour or food sack garments or textiles you would be willing to donate to the TRC please let me know at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  

Gillian Vogelsang, 29 May 2017


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Financial donations to the TRC can be made via Paypal; Donaties aan de TRC kunnen worden overgemaakt via Paypal:

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
Financial donations to the TRC can be made via Paypal: