TRC Blog: Textile Moments

Dammur cloth from Sudan: Continued

Last week we put a blog online about the visit of Magdalena Woźniak to work on the TRC’s Crowfoot Collection and in particular the Sudanese items (click here). To Magdalena’s great pleasure she found a piece of dammur cloth. Magdalena also wrote a blog about this piece of cloth and its social and economic significance (click here).

Read more: Dammur cloth from Sudan: Continued


Sudan, Poland, and the TRC

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, director of the TRC, writes about special attention being paid to the Sudanese /Nubian collection at the TRC:

This week we have been very busy with a special section of the TRC Collection. It all started with a visit for four days by Magdalena Woźniak, a Marie Curie Fellow from the Polish Academy of Sciences. She is an archaeologist working on Nubian textiles and dress, from the north of Sudan, Africa (and also someone who came on the TRC 5-day textile course in 2015).

Read more: Sudan, Poland, and the TRC


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



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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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