Textile Adventures in Belgium – Royal Manufacturers De WitMay 16, 2015 at 3:54 pm | Posted in Museums and Exhibitions | Leave a comment
Sadly, this year’s expedition to the textile treasures of Europe is already over, but there’s lots to tell for sure! After visiting the Netherlands last year, this year I was headed to neighbouring Belgium, which in my mind is inextricately linked to lacemaking. But as always, that’s not the only thing in store.
When looking through my travel guide in preparation for this trip, I came across something of a rarity: there was a destination of textile interest listed … the Royal Tapestry Manufactury De Wit in Mechelen. And this is not just any place, in fact, I had heard of its reputation for conservation and especially cleaning of tapestries before, on the blog of the National Trust’s Textile Conservation Studio, which regularly sends tapestries to Belgium for cleaning. So, this was a place I had to see, with the slight complication that there’s exactly one public tour every week, at 10:30 on Saturdays. Luckily the only other place I wanted to visit that had such restricted opening times was open on Wednesdays, so with a bit of planning and given the fact that Belgium is small enough so travelling around is not a problem, I was able to be there on Saturday. Hidden behind the high walls of a former monastery, it wasn’t very obvious to find, but the sign was clear:
Visitor groups meet up in the beautiful garden, which we would later learn houses a collection of plants that can be used for dyeing, mostly for the education of visitors nowadays, I think.
On this Saturday, there were two tour guides, and despite the announcement on the website that the tour would be in a maximum of two different languages, the guides ended up doing two languages each, with one group in Dutch and French, and the group I joined in German and English. Everything took a tiny bit longer that way, but that meant more time for looking at the tapestries, so I certainly didn’t complain.
Having been originally established as a manufactury for tapestries, nowadays the company doesn’t produce any new tapestries, but has specialized in cleaning, conservation and restoration of old tapestries as well as in buying and selling. The showrooms on the ground floor had a wealth of old tapestries, and our guide gave us an expert tour on how to distinguish the different periods and the things to look for. I’m afraid I have forgotten most of it by now. They did have a loom set up in one of the rooms, and a lady came in to give a demonstration. I always appreciate when something like that happens, so you don’t only get to hear the theory!
We also got to have a look into the restauration workshop, where the most impressive feature were the walls filled with threads of all colours. You can see a picture of that on the webite. Under the roof there’s another exhibition area, this time with tapestries from the 20th century, which is quite a contrast to the older ones on the ground floor.
At the end, our tour took almost two hours, and was filled with pretty things to look at and lots of information. If you’re ever in the right place at the right time, go see the place, it is great!