TRC Blog: Textile Moments

Grace Crowfoot and the Aleppo tarbit (ikat) industry

Woman's coat from Jordan, 1920's, made of ikat cloth (TRC 2005.0076).

Woman's coat from Jordan, 1920's, made of ikat cloth (TRC 2005.0076).

Among the many items belonging to the English textile archaeologist Grace Crowfoot (1879-1957) now in the TRC Collection Leiden, are a few objects relating to the production of tarbit (ikat) in Aleppo, Syria. In particular there is a letter that describes some of the relevant processes in Aleppo in 1939.

Ikat is a general term for a form of resist dyeing technique, in which the warp and/weft threads are coloured prior to the weaving of the cloth. In Syria it is known as tarbit. There has been a trade in the production of tarbit in Aleppo and surrounding regions for hundreds of years.

In order to produce ikat, groups of threads are being tightly bound together in a specific order to create the desired design. By repeatedly binding, dyeing, rebinding, dyeing, and so forth, it is possible to create a range of patterns. Tarbit from Syria often take the form of silk striped cloth and checked cotton forms. Where a silk or artificial silk warp is used together with cotton wefts, then this type of cloth is known as qutni (‘the cotton ones’).

Read more: Grace Crowfoot and the Aleppo tarbit (ikat) industry


Dammur cloth from Sudan

Piece of Dammur cloth from Sudan, 1920s, collected by Grace Crowfoot (TRC 2016.0034).

Piece of Dammur cloth from Sudan, 1920s, collected by Grace Crowfoot (TRC 2016.0034).

Magdalena Woźniak from Poland is studying Nubian textiles. She was recently at the TRC to look at relevant objects that were collected in the 1920s in Sudan by the British textile historian, Grace Crowfoot. Magdalena has written a brief report:

The TRC Collection is very much like Ali Baba’s cave – each box contains hidden treasures! While working for the last few days on Grace Crowfoot’s ethnographic collection from Sudan, I had the immense pleasure of discovering a cotton cloth (TRC 2016.0034) labelled “ ‘Dammur’ woven from ‘Tree’ cotton at Hillet Mahmud, Sennar.”

Why is this so exciting? Because ‘dammur’ was mentioned by European travellers from the 19th century as a substitute for currency. Here is an extract from an account by the Swiss geographer and Orientalist, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt (1784-1817), who visited Sudan in 1813: “The common currency of the country at Berber, and all the way from thence to Sennaar, is Dhourra, and Spanish Dollars; […] Besides the Dhourra, another substitute for currency is the Dammour, a coarse cotton cloth, which is fabricated in the neighbourhood of Sennaar, and principally used by the people of this country for their shirts: one piece of Dammour is exactly sufficient to make one shirt for a full grown man; this is called Tob, or Thob Dammour.” (J. L. Burckhardt, Travels in Nubia, London, 1819:234).

Read more: Dammur cloth from Sudan


Buttons galore

Three pairs of buttons, The Netherlands, 1930s (TRC 2018.1497a-f).

Three pairs of buttons, The Netherlands, 1930s (TRC 2018.1497a-f).

As noted in an earlier blog, the last few months at the TRC have been used to sort, photograph and catalogue a collection of 1920’s-1940’s textiles and garments from a family in Wassenaar, which is close to Leiden. The donation also included what appeared to be a small box of buttons, buckles and clasps, which fitted into our work on textiles and fashion.

The buckles and clasps were quickly catalogued and put online, but the buttons presented a totally different challenge. There were hundreds of them! What should we do with them! Keep them all? Make a general collection or something more complicated, namely a reference collection? The latter could then be used by the TRC and others for identifying and describing buttons from all ovet the place and from all periods. Buttons seem so ordinary they are often forgotten or regarded as unimportant. Such a reference collection would take them out of obscurity.

With typical TRC bravado we have decided to make such a reference collection. The button descriptions have been divided into the following: a. Materials used to make the buttons (from bone to plastics); b. General appearance (bell, convex, concave, flat, round, square, etc); c. Parts of a button (and there are an intriguing range of elements for something so small); d. Different types of fastening systems (through, shank, stud, etc); e. Function (buttons, inside buttons, shoe, glove, dress, waistcoat, uniform, etc).

It will be a while before the whole Button Reference System is working in a satisfactory manner, but we feel that this and similar reference collections will make a big difference in creating a more accurate description of what we actually have in the ever growing and quite frankly, quite amazing TRC Collection.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, Sunday 13th May 2018



Lace and the TRC

Detail of a Christening veil from Brussels, Belgium, c.1820 (TRC 2014.0831).

Detail of a Christening veil from Brussels, Belgium, c.1820 (TRC 2014.0831).

TRC volunteer Olga Ieromina and director Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood are busy at the moment sorting out and cataloguing the TRC’s extensive lace collection. The main theme of the collection is 'technique' and it includes needle laces, bobbin laces, net, knotted (tatting, macramé), looped (knitted and crochet), and embroidered forms, as well as a range of machine made laces (levers, chemical, etc).

During the next few weeks more and more items relating to the production of lace will be made available to view in the TRC Collection online. These include tatting shuttles, hairpin lace frames, a wide selection of crochet hooks from the early twentieth century, as well as various types of lace bobbins and related equipment.

Most of the TRC lace dates to the 19th and 20th centuries, but we hope to increase the range of examples over the next few years to make it into a comprehensive reference collection for the identification of lace.

The weekend of the 8th-9th September 2018 will be dedicated to a two-day course given by Olga on the identification of different types of lace and an explanation of how these are made (click here for more information and registration). This course is designed for people with little knowledge of the various types of lace, but will also be of interest to the experienced.

If you have any examples of old lace that you would like to donate to the TRC, please do not hesitate to get in contact with us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, Thursday 10th May 2018


The TRC online exhibitions

Pair of daily lotus shoes, early 20th century (TRC 2013.0063a-b).

Pair of daily lotus shoes, early 20th century (TRC 2013.0063a-b).

In order to put the TRC Collection in context AND online, we are busy making a series of online exhibitions that reflect the diversity and depth of the 20000 items in the catalogue. So far there are eight exhibitions already completed. They range from Afghan dress, postcards from the First World War, clothing from the ‘Stans’’, feed sack dresses and quilts, to Berlin wool charts and appliqués made by the men and women of the Street of the Tentmakers in Cairo.

Three exhibtions have just recently been finished. The first is an exhibition of Berlin wool charts, recently donated to the TRC collection.

The second is about ancient Greek loom weights in the TRC collection associated with the warp weighted loom. This exhibition is by Shelley Anderson and helps place the archaeological weights in their historical and technological context.

The third online exhibition is about Chinese lotus shoes worn by girls and women at the beginning of the 20th century. The TRC collection includes a variety of different types and sizes of these tiny shoes, as well as items relating to the making of this form of footwear, including patterns, thread, embroidered panels, irons, awls and small wooden lasts. There are regional variations as well as different domestic items, such as leggings, silk bandages, bridal shoes, daily shoes, mourning and funeral shoes, even a pair of overshoes with iron cleets for wearing in rainy and muddy conditions. This exhibition is dedicated to Mrs. Mariet ter Kuile-Portheine, a long time friend and supporter of the TRC.

In addition to the above exhibitions the two Manchester students who are currently at the TRC are working hard on their own online exhibitions. The exhibition by Kate is about urban underwear from the late 19th century until the 1960’s and will included cotton, lace and knitted examples. Kazna is busy with one about Yemeni dress for men and women. She is also thinking about making an exhibition about the different types of face veils.

We are also thinking about a digital exhibition on the decoration of women’s hats in the 1920’s and 1930’s based on a collection of over 700 items given to the TRC by the family of Mrs van Rijckevorsel van Kessel (Wassenaar). She was a textile buyer for the Dutch fashion house of Doorn. The items in this collection were either worn by her or collected during her working life. Mrs van Rijckevorsel van Kessel was a dedicated decorator of hats and the collection include hat bases, a wide range of bands and ribbons, to feathers, beaded panels and buckles.

Sunday, 15th April 2018. Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood


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

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Entrance is free, but donations are always welcome !

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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
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