TRC Blog: Textile Moments

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

   

Fowler Museum book donation

As a follow up to my visit to the Fowler Museum, Los Angeles, in April/May of this year, and my blog about the visit, I thought the TRC’s blog readers might be interested in having further details about the textile activities of the Museum and in particular about the Fowler Museum Textile Series (as far as I could see this series is not listed on the Fowler Museum website).

The series was started in 1998. It contains a series of well-illustrated monographs about the history and types of textiles and garments from around the world. These books are written by specialists in the various fields of textiles studies.

The Fowler Museum Textile Series includes the following titles. Copies of many of these books have recently been donated to the TRC:

  • Roy W. HAMILTON (1998), From the Rainbow’s Varied Hue: Textiles of the Southern Philippines (ISBN: 978-0930741655).
  • Doran H. ROSS (1989). Wrapped in Pride: Ghanaian Kente and African American Identity (ISBN: 978-0930741693).
  • Patrick DOWDEY (1999), Threads of Light: Chinese Embroidery from Suzhou and the Photography of Robert Glenn Ketchum (ISBN: 978-0930741716).
  • Anne SUMMERFIELD (1999), Walk in Splendor: Ceremonial Dress and the Minangkabau (ISBN: 978-0930741730).
  • Sharon Sadako TAKEDA (2002), Japanese Fishermen’s Coats from Awaji Island (ISBN: 978-0930741860).
  • Gloria Granz GONICK, Yo-ichiro HAKOMORI and Hiroyuki NAGAHARA (eds, 2003), Maturi! Japanese Festival Arts (ISBN: 978-0930741914).
  • Chapurukha M. KUSIMBA, J. Claire ODLAND and Bennet BRONSON (eds; 2007), Unwrapping the Textile Traditions of Madagascar (ISBN: 978-0930741945).
  • B. Lynne MILGRAM and Roy W. HAMILTON (2008). Material Choices: Refashioning Bast and Leaf Fibers in Asia and the Pacific (ISBN: 9780974872988).
  • Rens HERINGA (2010). Nini Towok’s Spinning Wheel: Cloth and the Cycle of Life in Kerek, Java (ISBN: 978-0977834426).
  • Roy W. HAMILTON (2012). Weavers’ Stories from Island Southeast Asia (ISBN: 978-0977834495).
  • Elizabeth Wayland BARBER and Barbara Belle SLOAN (eds; 2013). Resplendent Dress from Southeastern Europe: A History in Layers (ISBN: 978-0984755035).
  • Elena PHIPPS (2013). The Peruvian Four-Selvaged Cloth: Ancient Threads/New Directions (ISBN: 9780984755059).
  • HAMILTON, Roy W. and Joanna BARRKMAN (eds., 2014). Textiles of Timor: Island in the Woven Sea, Los Angeles: Fowler Museum Textile Series no. 13. ISBN 978-0930741501.

All of these books are well worth having, as they provide detailed information about the use of textiles and dress in various parts of the world. In particular the colour illustrations make these volumes special. Over the next few months the Fowler Textile Series books now at the TRC will be described separately in the column Books Showcased.

Gillian Vogelsang, 28th May 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

   

Lyon, France

Impression of the exhibition at the Musée de Lyon, France.

Impression of the exhibition at the Musée de Lyon, France.

Lyon, France, is proud of its textile history. This begins in the city’s airport, where mannequins in designer clothes are scattered throughout the arrival hall. Their plaques state that Lyon has been the Silk Capital of France since the 16th century, and continues to produce luxury silks, taffetas, velvets and laces for top fashion brands. Then there’s a Metro line called “La Soie” (“Silk”) and glossy advertisements for a candy named “Le Coussin de Lyon” (the “Cushion of Lyon”, after a silk cushion in front of a local statue of the Virgin Mary).

It is Lyon’s Textile Museum, however, that really showcases the city’s love affair with silk. The Museum has one of the world’s largest textile collections with some two and a half million objects, spanning 4000 years. The collection was begun in 1864 by the city’s Chamber of Commerce, which still runs the Museum. Herein lies a problem: several years ago the government cut its subsidies for Chamber of Commerces by 40 percent. The Lyon Chamber of Commerce decided it could no longer afford to keep the Textile Museum and its sister collection, the Museum of Decorative Arts.

Museum staff and supporters are working hard trying to secure private funding to keep the Museum open. If they do not succeed, the Museum may close at the end of this year and the collection will be divided up. Given that the Museum also houses a conservation and documentation centre and is headquarters, since 1954, for the prestigious Centre International de’Etude des Textiles Anciens (CIETA), this would be a blow to textile research.

It would also be a blow to the average textile lover, if the Museum’s most recent exhibition “The Genius of Industry” is an indication. It is a stunning exhibition of 18th and 19th century Lyonnaise fabrics, mostly used to decorate walls and furniture in wealthy homes or in palaces such as Versailles. The exhibition opens with a 19th century wood and iron dryer, beautifully decorated on the outside with Chinese images of silk production. The dryer was used to dry samples from silk bales. Silk can absorb up to one-third of its weight in water. Using this machine, prospective buyers were assured they were getting as much silk as possible.

And then come the stunning textiles: three metre long, beautifully preserved panels, many from silk and linen, often embellished with gold and silver thread. One such panel portrayed peacock feathers, bouquets of big flowers and broad ribbons, and used 48 different colours. This fabric decorated Marie-Antoinette’s bedroom walls. I was surprised at the narrowness of the panels, until I saw the exhibition’s Jacquard loom, with its width of about 40 centimetres. Because of meticulous record keeping, the names of the designer and the weaver (and, in the case of embroidery, the embroiderer) are often known. Each panel was accompanied by detailed technical information, unfortunately (for me) only in French. This is an exhibition that deserves to be seen—and a Museum that deserves to stay open.

By Shelley Anderson, 23rd May 2017

See also the blog of 22 May 2016. 

   

Philip V of Spain and Queen Maria Luisa: A serviette from 1701 with a long history

The text and designs on the damask serviette woven for the wedding of Philip V of Spain and his wife, Queen Maria Luisa of Savoy, in 1701.

The text and designs on the damask serviette woven for the wedding of Philip V of Spain and his wife, Queen Maria Luisa of Savoy, in 1701.

The TRC has just acquired a large linen serviette (115 x 88 cm) that has a fascinating history. It is made from a damask weave and was designed to celebrate the marriage of King Philip V of Spain and Maria Luisa of Savoy in 1701. The cloth depicts the King and Queen, as well as the arms of both royal houses. The representations on the right hand side are a mirror image of those on the left hand side.

At the top of the cloth is the text VIVANT ET REGNENT PHILIPPUS V HISPANIARUM REX ET CONIUX EIUS LUDOVICA REGINA ('MAY PHILIPS V, KING OF THE SPANISH, AND HIS WIFE QUEEN LUISA LIVE AND REIGN LONG') set inside a laural wreath.

The reason why serviettes in this period were so large is because women's dresses were particularly grand and a large piece of cloth was needed to protect the garments during meals.

Philip V (1683-1746) was the grandson of Louis XIV of France. His accession to the Spanish throne in 1700, which led to close dynastic links between France and Spain and the shifting of the balance of power in Europe, resulted in the War of the Spanish Succession, which was concluded in 1713 with the Treaty of Utrecht (and the occupation by Great Britain of Gibraltar, and the port of Antwerp being permanently blockaded by the Dutch). His wife was fourteen years old when she married. She died in 1714 of tuberculosis. 

Gillian Vogelsang, 10th May 2017

 

   

The TRC in Los Angeles

Fowler Museum, Los Angeles

Fowler Museum, Los Angeles

For the last week or so I have been in sunny Los Angeles, soaking up ..... textiles. I was asked by the Fowler Museum, UCLA, to comment on a collection of Syrian garments they are in the process of being given by a private collector. The garments are a spectacular group and all being well will feature in an exhibition at the Museum in about 18 months from now.

I left Leiden on the Thursday in order to get over jet lag in time for work on the following Monday and to see some friends. Friday saw a visit to the Getty Museum, and the chance to see four hundred years of European paintings. Including some, but not as many as I had hoped for, with embroidered garments. It was worth it though, just to experience the Getty and its architecture.

On Saturday afternoon, I gave a lecture about embroidery in the Arab world to the Textile Museum Associates of Southern California (TMA/SC) based in Los Angeles. Despite a change of venue and time there was a full house and extra chairs had to be sought. The lecture was called "1001 Embroidered Tales" and looked at the social and economic stories behind individual pieces and groups of embroideries in the Middle East. At the end of the meeting various members of the public displayed and talked about items they had brought with them. It was great fun. I also had the chance to talk about the work of the TRC and several people offered their help in obtaining pieces and thinking who might be willing to financially help the TRC. A special guest was Professor Olaf Kaper from Leiden, board member of the TRC, and presently in Los Angeles upon the invitation of the Getty.

We later also briefly discussed the possibility of setting up a non-profit society called "American Friends of the TRC." More about this in due course. One lady in particular, Marge Gajicki (The Folk Motif) went out of her way (literally as she lived in Long Beach about 50 km away) to get items of Hispanic and Western clothing, including a bolo tie that was given by her brother-in-law and several shirts of different styles, including Western, Hispanic and Hawaiian forms. Many thanks Marge! It means that I can face Shelley and Maria (two American volunteers at the TRC) with a calm heart when I get back as they want to build up the American dress collection at the TRC and I was given a shopping list, always an interesting moment.

A woman's outdoor coat from Uzbekistan, donated to the TRC by David and Elizabeth Reisbord.

A woman's outdoor coat from Uzbekistan, donated to the TRC by David and Elizabeth Reisbord.

Monday saw work start on the collection at the Fowler and the next few days were spent in photographing, cataloguing and discussing the collection, as well as talking with the exhibition and the publication committees. On Wednesday evening I gave a talk to the Fowler Textile Council at the Museum, with the chief curator of the Museum, Matthew Robb as my 'assistant'. One of the guests was Willeke Wendrich, now Professor of Egyptology in Los Angeles, who was one of the first Board members of the TRC in Leiden. She and her husband have been friends of long standing ! My talk was about the garments I was working on and the audience was given a sneak preview of an exhibition that does not (yet) exist. All I can say is that if and when the paper work is in order it will be a colourful and surprising display of Syrian garments, most of which date to the early 20th century.

While at the Fowler Museum it was mentioned that they had a series of books about textiles and clothing (well worth looking into). So on behalf of the TRC Library I went into begging mode and Marla Berns, the director of the Museum, very kindly agreed that the TRC could have any books on textiles and dress in their various series. This amount to 22 titles! Not only that, but the Museum paid for their postage to Leiden as they were far too heavy for me to take back in my (small) suitcase. This is a very generous gift and one which is greatly appreciated. The books will appear in the TRC Books Showcased over the next few months, we may even have a special issue dedicated to Fowler books.

The next few days prior to leaving were spent with friends, David and Elizabeth Reisbord, looking at their textile collection and dreaming of what the TRC could and should do in the future. They very kindly gave the TRC a group of Guatemalan textiles and garments and Indian embroideries. The latter will be used in the TRC's forthcoming encyclopaedia about embroideries from Iran, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. In addition, the TRC was given several textiles and a woman's coat from Uzbekistan, which can be seen in our forthcoming exhibition called "Dressing the Stans" that opens in September 2017 at the TRC Gallery.

Before signing off I would like to thank various people for making my trip to LA particularly memorable, notably David and Elizabeth Reisbord, Marla Berns (director of the Fowler Museum), Matthew Robb (senior curator of the Fowler Museum), the dedicated members of the TMA/SC and those of the Fowler Textile Council, many of whom belong to both groups. There is certainly a lot happening within the textile and dress field in the LA district and more is coming. Well worth keeping an eye on.

And the highlight of my trip to LA? Paddling in the Pacific Ocean with Elizabeth….

Gillian Vogelsang, 9th May 2017

   

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Donations

 
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   info@trc-leiden.nl

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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Donations

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: