Broadcloth, Stitches, Seven Centuries, and the World

For seven centuries, the city of Leiden in the southern Netherlands has been associated with woven cloth. During its peak production in the 16th and 17th centuries, Leiden manufactured over 180 different kinds of fabric, employing thousands of textile workers from the Netherlands, Europe, and England. Leiden broadcloth was known throughout the world and the last manufacturer closed only 40 years ago.

Isaac Claesz van Swanenburg, The washing of the fleeces, and sorting of the wool. Leiden, 1607 or 1612. The Lakenhal, Leiden.

Present-day Leiden is still very much associated with textiles, but now more in celebration than in production. The Stichting Textile Research Centre was established in 1991 in Leiden with the goals of collecting and presenting textiles, not just from the Netherlands, but worldwide, and of providing educational opportunities. They have enjoyed 25 years of remarkable success and have done significant work. Thrums Books would like to acknowledge the Textile Research Centre for its work with traditional textiles; its exhibitions, research, and array of special projects contributes greatly to the ongoing story of cloth.

Collecting Traditions

The TRC’s collection of global textiles, clothing, and accessories began in 1997 with only 43 pieces. It is now home to about 11,000 items that span the globe and the centuries. You will discover everything from Afghan embroidery to traditional Dutch dress, from Italian Renaissance silk to spinning and weaving equipment from the Andes. And the collection continues to expand rapidly as the Textile Centre frequently receives donations of rare and significant collections.

Early 20th century embroidered trousers for an Afghan wrestler. From the TRC collection.

Where there is a diverse and considerable collection, there are often exhibitions, beautiful and educational. The TRC is no exception, presenting two exhibitions each year based on items from its own collection. Its most recent exhibition, “Decorated with Gold and Silver,” included rare European silk textiles from the 17th and 18th centuries woven with metal threads. The next exhibition, “From Sweden to Sardinia,” opens August 30 and features a variety of European embroidery.

Headgear (doppe) from Uzbekistan, decorated with gold-colored metal thread. From the TRC collection.

Teaching Traditions

The TRC offers intensive courses and workshops on a wide assortment of textile techniques and history. These include a 5-day course on the basic techniques involved in textile production and workshops that cover everything from Leiden broadcloth and arpilleras from Chile to how to wear a Japanese kimono.

Chilean arpillera.

I’ve barely laid the foundation stitches for the outstanding design that is the Textile Research Centre, so if you’re not able to visit soon, you can still access their tremendous resources online: The Library, The Digital Encyclopaedia of Decorative Needlework, or past exhibitions. Enjoy it!

All photographs used with the kind permission of the Textile Research Centre.

Remember to recommend your favorite textile museum or gallery so we can feature it in a future post!

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