TRC Blog: Textile Moments

Horse riding and a Chinese silk skirt from Indonesia

Chinese-Indonesian skirt, pre-1930s (TRC 2012.0077).

Chinese-Indonesian skirt, pre-1930s (TRC 2012.0077).

TRC volunteer Mengying Zhang writes:

I was looking for traditional Chinese garments at the TRC Leiden and found a skirt that combines elegance and horse riding. How intriguing! It is the 馬(ma)面(myan)裙(tsyun), or mamianqun, when spelled out in the Latin alphabet.

Long wrapping skirts have been worn by Chinese men and women under a long tunic for more than 600 years, up to the mid-20th century. The occasions on which  they were worn and their gender code have changed through time, and their form has slowly evolved. The skirt in the TRC Collection (TRC 2012.0077) is typical of a mamianqun and is made up of a series of overlapping panels with symmetrical pleats. At the centre front, a split is created by two identical panels that are attached to the skirt’s waistband. These two panels are separate from each other, but come together when the waistband is fastened. A second split is formed by wrapping and fastening the skirt around the wearer’s waist, leaving an overlapping area at the centre back. Meanwhile, the pleats lay symmetrically to the sides of the wearer.

Imagine how the pleats would swing with every movement of the wearer and bring into mind the general position of traditional Chinese women, we suggest that these skirts have an elegant aura!

However, there is much more to these skirts. A number of contemporary Chinese and non-Chinese researchers believe – based on excavations – that the symmetrical pleats and overlapping splits have very practical functions. Both elements were originally meant to make it easier to ride a horse. It is easier to bend the knees, and the splits allow the two side panels to hang along the horse’s back instead of piling up on it. We could therefore suggest that the horse riding elements of the mamianqun reflect the presence and influence of the horse riding societies along the northern borders of China, clearly attested in Chinese and Mongolian sources.

The skirt from Indonesia in the TRC collection was worn by a woman of Chinese origin. She may never have seen a horse, let alone have ridden one, but her dress reflects the age-long interchange between the Chinese and the northern nomads from Mongolia and beyond.

There are actually three of these skirts in the TRC collection, all of which feature not only traces of intercultural exchange, but also elaborate decoration and structure. Should you come to the Netherlands, do not hesitate to take a look at these amazing skirts in our collection and allow yourselves to be inspired!

Mengying Zhang, 30th July 2018

   

TRC volunteer completes MA course at Courtauld's.

Multitasking: Reading a book on fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli while knitting a jumper from a 1940s pattern. Photograph: Nelleke Honcoop.

Multitasking: Reading a book on fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli while knitting a jumper from a 1940s pattern. Photograph: Nelleke Honcoop.

Nelleke Honcoop, a former TRC volunteer, writes about her MA studies in London:

In January 2016 I became a volunteer at the Textile Research Centre. Although my undergraduate course was in Religious Studies, I have long been fascinated by dress and textiles from the early twentieth century. As a young teenager, I enjoyed spending time at my grandmother’s attic rummaging through the late 1960s, early 1970s clothing worn by my mother and aunts when they were my age. I started to collect and wear clothing from these decades, and subsequently developed this love for dress from bygone times via the 1950s, 1940s, and 1930s, back to the 1920s...

Working as a volunteer at the TRC, I started to realise it is my vocation to continue in the field of dress and textile history. Therefore, I applied to a postgraduate History of Art course at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. The special option I enrolled into is called ‘Documenting Fashion: Modernity, Film and Image in Europe and America, 1920-1960’. Obviously, the focus and timeframe could not be more perfect to me!

During nine busy months in London, I followed theoretical and thematic classes in dress history and fashion studies, visited the dress collections and archives of, among others, the Museum of London and the Victoria and Albert Museum, and spent hours at the British Library leafing through Vogue and other (fashion) magazines. My first assessed essay focused on home dressmaking and the advertisement of ‘Simplicity’ sewing patterns in Harper’s Bazaar, while my second essay addressed the promotion of rayon as a modern fabric in the interwar period.

Finally, I wrote my dissertation on the London-based, female-run textile printing workshop called ‘Footprints’ and its retail outlets in London’s fashionable West End during the 1920s and 1930s (You can read more about my dissertation on Documenting Fashion’s dress history blog (download here). After a formative, inspiring academic year in London, I graduated with distinction. However, I am not quite done with studying and working with dress and textile objects and hope to continue developing my knowledge and skills in the future.

Nelleke Honcoop, 25th July 2018

 

   

A chart of an embroidery from Mandvi, Kutch, India

The TRC has just acquired a piece of embroidery (TRC 2018.2582) that is attributed to a Jain community from Mandvi, in Kutch, in the modern state of Gujarat, western India. It is a small band, perhaps for a sari or from a sleeve. It depicts paired parrots flanking a tree, and stylised flowers. It is a counted thread embroidery worked in cross stitch using multi-coloured floss silk thread. The motifs are basically Hindu, but they have a European feel to them, which is not surprising considering the influence of cross stich counted thread embroidery propagated by Christian missionary schools from the nineteenth century. Please click here to see a PdF version of the chart

Chart of an embroidery from Mandvi, Gujarat, India.

Chart of an embroidery from Mandvi, Gujarat, India.

 

   

An intriguing quilted shirt for a Pashai man from Afghanistan

A quilted shirt for a Pashai man, Afghanistan (TRC 2018.2581).

A quilted shirt for a Pashai man, Afghanistan (TRC 2018.2581).

Gillian Vogelsang writes about a recent trip to Cambridge:

Willem and I have just had a textile weekend in Cambridge, England. It was meant to be a mixture of holiday and work, but embroidery dominated the time. We were there to talk with Caroline Stone and John Gillow about the Encyclopedia of Embroidery series (Bloomsbury), Afghanistan and the Indian subcontinent embroidery in particular. It was intensive and hundreds of photographs were made, notes taken, embroideries examined and ‘new’ stitches identified. Not so surprising, perhaps, a number of textiles were acquired so that further technical analysis could took place at the TRC in Leiden.

Read more: An intriguing quilted shirt for a Pashai man from Afghanistan

   

Black as jet

Jet working atelier, Whitby, UK (photograph Shelley Anderson).

Jet working atelier, Whitby, UK (photograph Shelley Anderson).

TRC volunteer Shelley Anderson writes about her recent visit to Whitby, England:

Whitby is a small fishing village on England’s northeastern coast. It’s famous for its ruined abbey and for the fact that it is mentioned in Bram Stoker’s classic novel Dracula. I was there for neither ruins nor vampires. Whitby is also famous for its jet, a black gem stone that has been used for jewellery since the Bronze Age.

Jet is a fossilized wood, made from the Araucaria tree (a relative of today’s monkey puzzle tree) during the Jurassic period. Jet is found in several places around the world, including northern Spain and southwestern Turkey (in fact, the Romans called the gem stone gagates, from the Gages river in Turkey). Jet from Whitby is considered among the highest quality anywhere. It is also increasingly scarce. The jet mines have been closed and it’s illegal to hack at any seams found in the beach cliffs. Jet workers now comb the beach along a particular seven and a half mile stretch of the North Yorkshire coastline to look for the gem stone.

I was in Whitby looking for jet jewelry for my own small collection, and for some Victorian jet buttons for the TRC’s button reference collection. There are dozens of shops selling jet jewelry, especially on the narrow Church Street. If you are interested in the history of jet, it’s better to go to a shop where jet is still being made into jewelry, rather than a shop that simply sells jet jewelry. I had some very good conversations in several of the former, including the jet shops One O Five and the Black Market.

Read more: Black as jet

   

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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.

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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.
 
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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