TRC Blog: Textile Moments

Opening of the Central Asia exhibition, and much more

Opening of the TRC exhibition "Dressing the 'Stans', 12th September 2017, by Prof. Peter Frankopan.

Opening of the TRC exhibition "Dressing the 'Stans', 12th September 2017, by Prof. Peter Frankopan.

This last week has been extremely busy thanks to a wide range of activities taking place at the TRC Leiden. Monday was spent putting the last touches to our new exhibition called Dressing the ‘Stans’: Textiles, clothing and jewellery from Central Asia. This exhibition was created as part of the Asia Year celebrations in Leiden that culminated in the opening of the Leiden University’s new Asia Library by H.R.H. Queen Maxima of the Netherlands.

The TRC exhibition (which was not opened by the Queen), was in fact opened on Tuesday by Prof. Peter Frankopan, Oxford University and author of the now famous book The Silk Roads (2015). Prof. Frankopan gave a short, but very much to the point, talk about the important role of textiles, especially silk, in linking cultures and groups together over the centuries. The exhibition will be on display until mid-December, so you will have ample chance to see it. In addition, in a few weeks’ time a digital version of the exhibition will appear on the TRC digital exhibition list (which is getting longer and longer with a range of very different exhibitions!).

Dressing the 'Stans' exhibition, from 12th September until 22 December 2017.

Dressing the 'Stans' exhibition, from 12th September until 22 December 2017.

Anyway back to Tuesday, the opening was followed by a light buffet, which gave everyone the chance to talk with Prof. Frankopan and to see the exhibition. Various guests promised items from home for the TRC Collection. Speaking of which, we were offered some Dutch regional dress items from one family from Nieuwland (Nieuw- en Sint Joosland) in the south of the Netherlands. Thanks to the generosity of one of the ‘Friends of the TRC’ who was at the opening, these items will be coming to the TRC next week and will enhance our growing Dutch regional dress collection.

Wednesday was spent with visitors to the exhibition, sorting out administration and getting my lecture ready for the following day. Thursday was spent meeting people at the Pieterskerk Leiden, following the opening of the Asia Library by Her Majesty. I was also able to talk with more people about the TRC (including the new British Ambassador to The Netherlands). Networking and getting the message about the TRC known to a wide range of people is important! And yes, we were offered as a donation some more textiles by an elderly lady whose father and mother collected embroideries and other items from Asia.

In the afternoon I gave a lecture as part of the Opening celebrations. To my surprise, it was a full house and people were standing (well one person was, but as it was Peter Frankopan, I am not complaining!). It was fun to talk about the exhibition and what we are doing to such an interested group.

Friday was spent tidying up, photographing and cataloguing some items from Turkey related to the Syriac Orthodox Church, as well as Afghan garments and textiles kindly given by May and Rolando Schinasi from Nice in France (all these are now online, see our catalogue). We also sorted out and sent off a grant proposal to the Prins Bernhard Cultuur Fonds. This proposal is all part of a really exciting project that the TRC recently got involved in – if you are a knitting fanatic and interested in a challenge, please keep an eye on the TRC website! I can say no more at the moment, but it's BIG.

And now to find twice as much space and four times the amount of money to house, present and enjoy everything! But before all of that happens, a cup of tea and a biscuit are required.

Gillian Vogelsang, Saturday 16th September 2017


Koperasi Jasa Menenun Mandiri and the TRC

Participants to the ikat workshop having lessons on how to weave on a body-tension loom.

Participants to the ikat workshop having lessons on how to weave on a body-tension loom.

For the last fortnight (12th – 24th August 2017), the TRC has been host to two weavers, Mapung Salomina and Emiliana, and Mrs. Musrikah Siti. Mrs. Siti is a museum curator and representative of the Koperasi Jasa Menenun Mandiri, a weaving co-operation with well over 1200 members, of which c. 300 weave on a daily basis. All are from from Sintang, Kalimantan (Borneo) in Indonesia. Their visit was facilitated by Esmeralda and Theo Zee, both of whom with strong connections with Indonesia.

A series of ten workshops and lectures were presented to over seventy participants. These meetings helped people to understand the process of ikat production, from the preparation of the cotton threads (using a spindle wheel), to the binding of the warps for ikat making, the dyeing of the threads and the weaving of the end product. In addition, there were extra workshops on various basic basketry and beading techniques.

The weavers, Mapung Salomina and Emiliana, set up two ikat looms in the TRC Gallery and this number was increased to four for the weaving workshops. This meant that each of the participants had at least thirty minutes working on the loom, learning and understanding the basic movements and techniques required. Every movement was watched and corrected by Mapung and Emiliana. It was hard work, especially for people who are not used to working with body-tensioned looms. But it certainly increased everyone’s appreciation of, and respect for what is involved in making an ikat textile in this manner.

The strict approach of the teachers was reflected in the binding lesson, when one (unfortunate) participant had spent a long time binding some warp threads only to have all bindings removed because they were not done in the ‘proper’ manner! A fact that was appreciated by the participants, as Mapung and Emiliana made it clear that the groups were there to learn new techniques and not to develop their own forms. The need for the participants to change how they thought about a design, how to describe it and more importantly how to communicate it from the brain to fingers was very apparent. People learnt a lot about themselves as well as about Sintang forms of working.

Lecture on the identification of Indonesian ikats, by Esmeralda Zee.

Lecture on the identification of Indonesian ikats, by Esmeralda Zee.

These workshops were very well attended and intensive – there was a lot to take in within a relatively short period (generally three hours), so the socialising and gossiping that is found in many Western sewing bees and quilting parties was not encouraged! Which is not to say that the TRC staple of tea/coffee and biscuits was absent. These were seriously needed.

The educational function of the TRC also came to the fore in two lectures that were given, one by Mrs. Esmeralda Zee, assisted by Mrs. Musrikah Siti, Mapung Salomina and Emiliana, and the second by myself, about non-Indonesian ikats, based on historical and modern examples in various museums, as well as in the TRC Collection. The use of deep fringes on the Ecuadorian ikats was especially noted. Mrs. Musrikah Siti is now going to develop a series of talks about non-Indonesian ikats to show how Indonesian forms fit within a global setting.

The weavers came with a variety of items for sale, some of which the TRC has purchased. In addition, we have acquired one of the looms used for the workshops – with the web, heddles and sticks all in place as well as ordering a series of small-scale frames that show step-by-step how a Sintang ikat is made. These will form the basis of a digital exhibition about ikats from around the world to be published in the near future.

The closing ceremony on Thursday afternoon (24th August 2017) was carried out by Prof. Bambang Hari Wibisono, the cultural attaché of the Indonesian Embassy in The Hague. His presence was greatly appreciated by all, as it confirms how important such cultural exchanges and events are, both in Indonesia and the Netherlands.

Gillian Vogelsang, 27th August.


A prehistoric puzzle

One of the Cahokia Mounds, Illinois, USA.

One of the Cahokia Mounds, Illinois, USA.

The Cahokia Mounds State Historic site, in Illinois (USA), is an UNESCO World Heritage site. It is most famous for its almost 100 human-made earthen mounds and for its Woodhenge, a circle of evenly spaced red cedars aligned with the solstices and equinoxes. Cahokia’s centre is Monks Mound, the largest prehistoric earthen construction in the Americas, whose base covers almost fifteen acres (over five and a half hectares) and which stands one hundred feet (thirty meters) high.

Archaeologists don’t know who built Cahokia or why, but during its peak from 1050 to 1200 CE it supported a population of between ten and twenty thousand native Americans. It was a highly structured society, which cultivated maize and squash on an industrial scale. They must have also manufactured textiles on an industrial scale. Numerous ceramic spindle whorls (often made from pieces of broken pottery) have been excavated in Cahokia and from its surroundings.

Fragments of dyed fabric have been found in the nearby Spiro Mounds (Oklahoma), which was under Cahokia’s rule. The fabric had with geometric patterns in red, black and yellow. Carbonized textile remains (of both cordage and fabric) have also been discovered. In at least one case, impressions left in the soil of a burial pit left clues as to how mats were woven from reeds or rushes.

These traces, and the study of historic native American textile production, reveal that the people of Cahokia used techniques such as finger weaving, braiding and twining. Deer sinew was pounded and separated into fibres for sewing hides together. Needles and pins were made from deer bones. Fur from rabbits and dogs (and perhaps other fur-bearing mammals) was spun into thread for weaving or sewing clothing; human hair was also spun or braided in order to make bowstrings. The stems of plants such as milkweed and dogbane was processed and spun to produce a silky-like thread for weaving; likewise the inner bark of trees like basswood, black locust, and cedar was made into strips for clothing, cordage, baskets, floor mats and sleeping mats.

Garments were made from animal hides and from plant fibres. Depictions of clothing (e.g., on carvings and petroglyphs) show both men and women wearing fringed kilts, with geometric patterns and wide sashes. Textiles were also decorated with shell beads, as the spectacular excavation of Mound 72 has shown. Over 280 bodies were excavated in the 1960s. It appeared to be the burial tomb of an elite male, who was found lying on a two-inch-thick layer of twenty thousand marine shell beads. The beads are thought to have decorated a bird-shaped cape or blanket about six feet long, which had disintegrated.

The grave goods buried in Mound 72 included mica and beaten copper (both used for jewellery), over seven hundred arrow heads and another cache of 36000 shell beads. Many of these goods came from hundreds of kilometres away, which point to extensive trade contacts. Cahokia and its excellent Interpretive Center are well worth a visit, both for anyone interested in ancient civilizations in general, or the pre/history of native American people in particular.

Shelley Anderson, 8th August 2017


A textile day in Jaipur, India

Modern example of gota and zardozi work from the City Palace, Jaipur. Acquired for the TRC collection on 1st August 2017.

Modern example of gota and zardozi work from the City Palace, Jaipur. Acquired for the TRC collection on 1st August 2017.

Today, Gillian and I visited Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, India. Since neither of us had ever been here, we were very curious this morning when our taxi driver and his brother, who have been with us for the last few days and have proven to be very patient and amused by our company and weird interests, drew up at the hotel and took us to the city centre. Our first port of call was the City Palace, where, we had been been told, there was a small display of garments worn by the past Maharajas of the city.

We were extremely surprised to discover that the palace grounds house a beautiful little textile museum with the most interesting garments, well displayed and with excellent text boards. They include some beautiful chogas, angharkhas and jamas, as well as a late-nineteenth century Chinese gown bought by the then Maharaja. The most prized item in the displayed collection is a pashmina (both warp and weft) floor covering dating to the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries.

Anyone paying a visit to Jaipur and being interested in textiles and garments used and worn by the Maharajas of Jaipur for the past few hundreds of years should certainly pay a visit. And not only the museum itself was a pleasant surprise, so was the museum shop with high quality merchandising, including textiles and garments made and embroidered in the palace workshop.

The afternoon we spent touring Jaipur and Jaipur bazaar, looking for textiles and textile materials. We ended up in a shop called Satguru’s, managed by Mr Aneesh Sharma, who not only showed us some of his interesting textiles, but also obviously loved talking about them and explaining techniques and giving us the local names. We bought several interesting Rajasthani embroideries, demonstrating various local techniques, including so-called Rajasthani phulkari (normally associated with the Panjab). We completed our tour in the bazaar itself, looking for materials for gota embroidery (characterised by pieces of metal thread ribbon cut or folded to shape). When with the help of many bystanders and some tea one of the bazaaris finally turned up with what we wanted, we decided that it was time to call it a day. A cappuccino in the City Palace was a well-earned reward. Tomorrow we will be heading back to Delhi.

Willem Vogelsang, 1st August 2017


Estonian folk costume

If you ever find yourself near Tartu (Estonia), one place you should visit as a textile enthusiast, is the Estonian National Museum. Besides the wonderful exhibitions about Estonian culture and history, there is since the 22nd of June 2017 the exhibition “Regarded as a norm, perennially worn”. This exhibition consists of 150 sets of traditional folk costumes from all across Estonia. The costumes are from all the rural municipalities of the country and reflect the seasonal and geographical diversity of traditional dress.

Another exhibition that is of particular interest is the permanent exhibition “Echo of the Urals”. This exhibition gives insight into the culture of the Finno-Ugric peoples, who are indigenous to large parts of, among others, Scandinavia and Eurasia. The exhibition is a beautiful mix of costume, culture, daily life, rituals and traditional art of Finno-Ugric peoples. This mix gives a wonderful insight into the cultural landscape through the combination of these cultural elements combined with modern media, such as displays and music. One gets a taste of what it would feel like to be part of the various cultural worlds of Finno-Ugric societies.

When I visited the exhibition it felt like stepping into another world. Through the use of sound you feel like you are truly standing near an isolated cabin in the woods or in the middle of the village square during a festival surrounded by music.

For more information about the museum, see and its exhibitions and

Deandra de Looff, 1st August 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: