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!
I’ve been traveling again, and it has become a habit that I’m selecting my vacation destinations by the existence of textile goodies to see. Makes me end up in places with lots of other interesting things as well, so that tactic has served me well so far.
My goal this year was the Netherlands, and I definitely had lots of fun there. Despite being very touristy, Amsterdam is a city not to miss. I spent three days there and didn’t even scratch the surface, there’s so much to see. For textile enthusiasts, I recommend the charming Museum of Bags and Purses, located in one of Amsterdam’s beautiful houses along the canals.
A totally different place is the Museum Catherijneconvent in Utrecht. Dedicated to Christian art and culture, there are many different artifacts to see, ranging from the medieval period to the present. Beautiful textiles are naturally a part of the exhibits. The museum is situated in a former convent building that gives a fitting frame for everything that’s inside:
Here’s the page from my travel sketchbook I created at the museum:
The beautiful ticket is on the left and an initial from one of the manuscripts on display on the right. Prices are in Euros, and yes, museum tickets in the Netherlands tend towards the expensive.
On the last day of my vacation, I visited the Museum de Kantfabriek in Horst. Located in the building of a former lace factory, it now has displays of local history as well as a very nice collection of working lace machines, with an emphasis on machine-made bobbin lace, which they also sell through their shop:
Wandering around Greenwich on my trip to London a few weeks ago, I also ventured into Queen’s House, lured in by a poster that had of all things something fibery on it! And my eyes weren’t deceiving me. There’s currently an exhibit by Alice Kettle at Queen’s House, named The Garden of England. It’s still running till August 18, 2013, so if you’re in the area go ahead and have a look, it’s free! It’s a small exhibit, just four or five pieces, but it seems to have left an impression on me, since my mind has been wandering around making flowers lately.
Flowers have long been a favourite motif for all kinds of needlework, so I started to rummage in historical needlework books. First, my favourite source, Project Gutenberg’s Crafts Bookshelf. Since I want to create free-standing flowers, to be applied to a larger piece later, I skipped the embroidery books and landed on the Bath Tatting Book. On closer inpection it turns out that the first three doilys presented there have a small flower as their basic unit. Just what I was looking for!
I then realized that my last tatting projects were long enough ago that I had forgotten how to make the knots. Another favourite to the rescue: the Encyclopedia of Needlework has the clearest tatting instructions I’ve ever come across. Half an hour later I was up and running. Here’s what I made:
What I did not expect just from looking at the pictures and a cursory readthrough of the instructions, was that the flowers are actually three-dimensional. I started with the rose shown in the middle. Here’s the doily it comes from:
On the left there’s the cornflower from this doily:
On the right is the sorry attempt at the chrysanthemum from this doily:
I’ve currently given up on that one. There’s a lot of picots and not many double knots holding them in place, so they tend to turn round or vanish when you’re not looking. Even after looking closely, in the current round I’m never quite sure if I’m tying to the correct loop, since those are loops I already tied to in the previous round. And there’s lots more of that kind of stuff coming when creating the spirals on the outer edge of the flower. I think the result would be stunning, but I’m not quite sure if I can pull it off. I may try to pick it up again in a few days or so.
After Honiton, my last stop before heading home was Salisbury. This very nice town is famous mostly for its Cathedral (well worth the visit) and because it’s located near Stonehenge. As always, I first became aware of Salisbury because of a hint that there would be lace to see at the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum. Since I can’t resist that kind of call, and Salisbury happens to lie along the same train line as Honiton, I decided to pay a visit and see for myself.
Turns out Salisbury is a very pretty little town, and the area around the Cathedral is nothing short of impressive. The museum is situated in a historical building directly opposite the Cathedral. Judging from the building, I couldn’t wait to find out what’s inside. Here’s a view from the backyard, which gives a nice impression of the nature of the building:
The museum’s emphasis is on archeology, which isn’t surprising given the proximity to Stonehenge and the rich history of the area going way back in time. But as always, I was especially attracted by the costume collection. The collection mostly shows historical clothing that people from the area would have actually worn, thus giving an interesting glimpse into local history. In addition there are some exhibits especially interesting for the needleworker, like this stumpwork mirror frame.
Finally, a few display cases showed samples of Downton lace, which is what drew me there in the first place. Downton lace is very different from the Honiton lace I saw just a day before. While the former is very elaborate, and often huge pieces were worked, Downton lace is generally worked as narrow edgings. It gives the impression of being way more utilitarian than Honiton lace. The exhibits consist mostly of sample collections, such as they would have been used by the lace merchants to present and sell their work. The pillows used are cylindrical, which lends itself to the making of long lengths of narrow edgings without having to repin the work.
As always, the limited space in the exhibition doesn’t have much space for additional information. I was hoping for the museum shop to come up with something to take home to read at leisure, and I wasn’t disappointed. While I couldn’t find it at my first look around, the shop assistent helped me to a nice little brochure all about Downton Lace and its history, and at 50p it’s a real steal! Here’s the cover, with a painting of a lady at work:
Lots of information in a smallish package, which is just what I like to see!
I finished up my visit with teatime at the museum café, sitting outside in direct view of the Cathedral, which was next on my list of places to visit.
I first came across the name “Honiton” in books on the history of lace-making, such as Chats on Old Lace and Needlework. Being eternally fascinated by all things lace, I found out a few years ago that Honiton does indeed have a museum, with lace being one focus of the permanent exhibition: Allhallows Museum of Lace and Local Antiquities.
Honiton never was quite in the direction of my travels during the last years, but this summer I still had a few days left to spend and so decided to go have a look. Arriving at Honiton around noon on a very nice late summer day, I found a pretty little town, mostly consisting of one street. Honiton is somewhat famous for its antique shops, and there’s also a pottery, which unfortunately is closed on Mondays, so I couldn’t go have a look-see.
But first priority was the museum, anyway. Housed in a historic building with an illustrious history right next to the church, it looks pretty small from the outside:
However, there are a few more rooms around the back, so it’s not quite as small as it looks. The first room has the tiny shop and a gallery of lots of different local things. A few stairs at the back bring you down to the Nicol Gallery, and this is where lace makers’ paradise starts. In this room there’s a display about the history of Honiton lace, and a big case with examples. There was old lace as well as modern, including a lace jabot and cuffs made for the Speaker of the House of Commons. They were made for and worn first by Bernard Weatherill, and since the current Speaker doesn’t wish to wear them, they get displayed in the museum.
In this gallery there were also a few stands for lace pillows, and at the end of my visit a lady started setting up her equipment to give a demonstration. She told me that they try to have someone in to demonstrate most afternoons, and gave me a few leaflets with more information about Honiton Lace. One of them was the FAQ you can also find on their website.
The Norman Gallery is the last room of the museum, and solely devoted to lace. In addition to lots of lace on display there’s information on topics such as Victorian mourning customs, and the developments in machine lace making that eventually made lace making by hand unprofitable.
Were there souvenirs? Of course there were:
The pile of leaflets at the back, and some postcards showing samples of Honiton lace. The museum included a second hand bookshop for mostly needlework-related books, and quite a few new brochures and books as well, but luckily there was nothing I absolutely had to have, since I had been exhausting my budget in Birmingham and Lampeter already.
Honiton was definitely worth the visit, I enjoyed myself very much and learnt a thing or two as well, just as it should be!
Tags: Welsh Quilt Centre
It seems to be becoming a tradition that every second year my summer holidays include a visit to the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham. This year, for the first time, I had booked a few lectures to mix up the days at the Festival and to have an opportunity to be entertained while sitting down in the middle of a long day on my feet.
The first lecture I attended was by Dorothy Osler, talking about her newest book “Amish Quilts and the Welsh connection“. I had selected this talk mainly because I was going to visit the exhibition of the same name at the Jen Jones Welsh Quilt Centre in Lampeter and was interested in hearing more about the topic. What I didn’t realize at that time was that the exhibition is actually inspired by the book, although given the identical titles, this is hardly surprising.
During her talk, Dorothy Osler shared a little bit of the story about how that book was conceived. We got to hear about her research successes as well as failures, and how the whole story came together. An absolutely fascinating mix of history and quilting! If you ever get a chance to hear her talk, it’s definitely worth it.
After that, I was looking forward to my visit to Wales even more. I took a train from Birmingham to Aberysthwyth, where I had to change to a bus to Lampeter. At first the weather was typically Welsh, with a bit of rain and some fog. But just in time for my arrival in Lampeter, the sun came out and it was an absolutely gorgeous afternoon. The museum is located in the old Town Hall, which very conveniently is right across the road from the bus stop.
The building has been lovingly restored and is now a perfect place for a quilt museum. The ground floor has the museum shop and entry on the left side and a very nice café on the right, where I enjoyed a great lunch. The main exhibition room is the old court room on the upper floor, and it’s absolutely magnificent. It’s not a big place, but the exhibition was lovely and I had all the peace and quiet I wanted to admire the quilts at leisure. In the hallways there was some more information about the history of Welsh immigrants to America, and in a few smaller rooms other temporary exhibitions were shown.
Back downstairs at the shop, I did the inevitable: shop for souvenirs. Here’s my booty:
In front to the right, the catalogue for the exhibition. Behind that, a gorgeous bookmark with a detail from a red handquilted quilt. And at the back, a book about Welsh Quilting Patterns and how to design your own. The Welsh Quilting Pattern & Design Handbook is a special edition published by the Welsh Quilt Centre, and the proceeds go toward the conservation of the museum’s collection. I’m pretty sure this isn’t the last time I’ll mention that book, since I feel a bit of sketching and quilting may be in the not-so-far future.
All in all, this is an amazing place, and I highly recommend a visit if you can make it there. The current exhibition still runs till November 3, 2012. A big thank you goes to Jen Jones and her team, who make the existence of this place possible. Their enthusiasm for the museum is highly contagious, and they did everything to make my stay there as enjoyable as possible. I might be back sooner rather than later even though the place is a bit off the beaten track!
After entering Normandy through its lace-making corner, I finally arrived in Bayeux, famous mostly for the tapestry that wasn’t even made here. The town greeted me with grey clouds and drizzles, but being that near to the atlantic coast, that’s par for the course. Bayeux had been on my list of places to visit from the moment I started planning this trip, and it didn’t disappoint at all. It’s a very pretty if a bit touristy town, and then there’s this:
Yup, that’s the museum that houses the famous tapestry. Totally worth it. The tapestry is housed in a specially built gallery on the ground floor of the museum, and I was variously advised to just go see the tapestry and skip the rest. The reputedly very good audio guide tells the story. Being not a particular fan of audio guides in general, I skipped that part and went into the gallery without having to hold something to my ear. What the audio guide seems to do is guide the visitors along the tapestry in a steady pace—good for moving lots of people along. Besides, I wasn’t there for the history, but for the needlework. So I hung back a bit, sought out the spaces in the neverending line of visitors, and admired the details. Even though there’s not really enough light for drawing in the gallery, I found myself a bench in the back and came up with this little tree:
Going back and forth a few times along the tapestry, I tried to take it all in, and when I’d seen enough, I checked out the rest of the museum. My advice would be not to skip that part, as tempting as it may seem. There’s lots of background regarding the history the tapestry shows, there’s an interesting video shown, and there may be special exhibits. I think I spent at least another hour in there.
As in most museums, you can’t get to the exit without going through the shop. Lots of merchandise, of course, and for once there was something I fancied: embroidery kits where you can recreate parts of the tapestry. A must-have souvenir for me. However, I didn’t get mine in the museum shop. When wandering around town the evening before, I noticed a small shop opposite the cathedral displaying those patterns. I was hoping to find a better selection there, and skipped the museum shop. In the shop, I found lots of patterns, including one I fancied and got, and a very friendly proprietor happy to show the technique. In addition to the traditional pieces, she also creates modern patterns using the old stitches. She also has an online shop, so you can do some virtual window shopping. Don’t get lost! Voilà, here’s my embroidered little tree:
Although the empasis is on the tapestry, there’s more needlework to be found. Bayeux has its own kind of bobbin lace, and there’s a lace school/shop you can visit right next to the embroidery shop. Unfortunately, the big city museum is currently closed due to renovations going on, but ordinarily there’d be more lace to be found there. I think that’s a good reason to go back to Bayeux once the museum has reopened.
Being a big admirer of needlelaces, Alençon and Argentan were very high on my list of places to visit in France. Both towns are preserving their history in the lace-making business, and the museums are splendid places to explore.
First up, Alençon. There’s a nice old town to see there, with a big church and interesting architecture. Sorry, no pics, since I managed not to take any. The Musée des Beaux-Arts et de la Dentelle is situated in an old building, and combines the town’s history in lace-making with an eclectic collection of paintings and sculptures. The big draw for me was of course the lace. On the ground floor there’s a small “appetizer” room, giving a glimpse of what’s still to come. Apart from fine examples of needlelaces from different time periods, there’s a table where different kinds of laces are on open display, and you’re invited to touch and study them, and then take a guess at which kind of lace you’re looking. Easy for somebody who’s been interested in lace for a long time, you’d think – and I did get most samples right on the first try. But hand- and machine-made bobbin laces still confuse me, and this was no exception to that rule. Shows that machines can make a very realistic imitation of bobbin lace.
The first floor was mainly dedicated to paintings, and after a quick look round I went to explore the second floor – and was blown away. There’s a huge room full of mostly big pieces of lace on all the walls and in display cases in the middle. While the emphasis is on Alençon lace, a lot of other types of needlelace are also on show, so you can compare the different types. I went round the room two or three times, seeing something new and different each time. There’s a display explaining the technique of making needlelace on one wall, and a video is shown in an adjacent room showing the past and present of Alençon lace. The technique of making Alençon lace is part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity since fall 2010, and lace is actively produced by a workshop situated next to the museum. Some of the pieces produced are on sale in the museum, and they’re incredible. To put the price tags into perspective, next to each piece there’s the number of hours it took to make it as well. Tiny pieces, huge number of hours. Looking at this makes you appreciate the huge amount of work that must have gone into making the big pieces in the museum gallery even more. All in all, an amazing place to visit, and one I’d definitely like to get back to another time.
The following day, I continue to Argentan. The town is considerably smaller, there’s another big church, and the lace museum is housed in a tiny building:
That tiny building houses a small but interesting museum. The right side of the ground floor houses the permanent part of the exhibition, showing the different types of French laces. On the left side a video is shown and there’s a small shop. The special exhibition upstairs is a pleasant surprise: “Dentelles d’ailleurs” – Laces from abroad shows laces from lots of different countries. In addition to European laces there’s also stuff made in Asia or America. Being able to see the different traditions on display next to each other is great fun.
All in all, two very enjoyable days in a part of France I probably wouldn’t have visited if it weren’t for the lace that was and is being made there.
Tags: chateau malmaison, jouy
Having had enough of the big city life the day before, I gladly accepted the invitation of my hostess to explore a few places outside Paris the following day. Since the weather wasn’t the best, we were looking to keep ourselves occupied indoors. While there was a fibery treat to look forward to in the afternoon, we first headed to the Château de Malmaison, famous for having been home to the Empress Josephine for a while. What I found was a beautiful house, surrounded by a beautiful garden:
French history is definitely not my strong suit, so a lot of that part of the visit went straight over my head. But I do enjoy looking at furniture and decorations from different periods, and the château is a great showcase for that. As usual, in between the furniture there was some embroidered upholstery as well as the odd tapestry on the wall. The house is lovingly decorated and a joy to see. After we finished our tour, the rain had stopped and we had the opportunity to take a short walk through the beautiful garden as well.
The visit planned for the afternoon was for the Musée de la Toile de Jouy. On our way there we drove through Versailles, and I had the opportunity to have a look at the famous castle. It is huge, and I’ll save a visit there for another time.
Jouy used to be one of the centres of fabric printing in France, and the museum shows the history of the industry as well as lots of samples of the results. You can take a virtual tour through the permanent exhibition here. I always enjoy the technical displays showing the process of making those printed fabrics. As a special treat, a video shown in a projection room in the basement shows a printer printing multicoloured fabric using the old technology. A special exhibit concentrated on rural motifs that were used on those fabrics. Add a very tempting museum shop, and you have a great outing for any textile lover.
While I went to Paris to see the sights, my special interest is always in the textile offerings. I didn’t find that much information about possible museums to visit in advance, but one thing was on top of the short list: visit the Musée National du Moyen Âge to see the famous tapestries of the Lady with the Unicorn. So this was to be my first stop right off the train.
The museum is fittingly located at the Hôtel de Cluny, a building with Roman and mediaeval roots. The items on display show the whole range of mediaeval ornaments. Right at the beginning of the tour through the museum there was a pleasant surprise: a special exhibition showing rare fragments of coptic textiles. After thoroughly exploring the many rooms of the ground floor I ventured upstairs and found the tapestries I was looking for. They have a darkened room just for themselves with lots of space. This makes for ideal viewing conditions, since you can look at the tapestries from different distances easily, and wander from one to the next comparing the motifs and admiring the craftsmanship involved. I always marvel at the huge amount of work that must have gone into those tapestries. You can click on the images in the website I linked to see some information and a few more pictures of each tapestry, but as always, images can’t replace seeing the real thing. The museum has done a brillant job of presenting the tapestries so they can be enjoyed thoroughly. All in all, definitely worth a recommendation.
Finding other places worth visiting was a bit more difficult. There is a fashion museum at the Palais Galliera, but it was closed last summer and according to the website will remain closed till spring 2013. So no success there. The next option according to my travel guide was the Musée de la Mode et du Textiles, situated in a wing of the Louvre. It took me a while to realize that this museum is actually connected with the museum Les Arts Decoratifs, so one ticket will get you entry to both. Since I was interested in both museums, no problem there. I got myself a ticket and went looking for the textile part of the offerings. What I found was a great gallery of jewellery, and a special exhibition of a modern designer who works on the borders between fashion and art. While there were some interesting things to see there, it was not that much to my taste. I then continued to explore the rest of the museum, which was great. The permanent exhibition of the museum shows a chronological history of the decorative arts from the middle ages to the present. Furniture, porcelain, textiles and lots more all shown within their historical context. So I spent a very pleasant couple of hours taking a stroll through history. Back outside I had my lunch sitting under a tree in the Tuileries, and had a very nice view back to the museum I just exited:
After a leisurely break in the park I had enough energy for another big museum, and I chose to visit the Musée d’Orsay. Lots of famous paintings and sculptures, and of course the marvellous architecture of a train station turned museum. After that, I needed another walk and took the subway over to Champs de Mars, walking through the park towards the Eiffel tower. With too many people around and a thunderstorm approaching, I just walked through the base taking some pictures and then headed back to my lodgings. I had seen quite enough of the busy city for the day so I was grateful when my hostess, a fellow textile enthusiast, offered to show me around a few interesting places outside Paris the following day. But that’s for the next post.