May 31, 2023

Hope is the thing with feathers*

While I am working behind the scenes, or mostly screen, on many projects, I cannot share much on it yet. But I did wanted to share a couple of things, not just on my work, but also on some things I visited, watched and joined. Although they are diverse, they have a common denominator, or focus point; The Wearer. I gravitate more towards it since my research projects are very focussed on the wearer(s), but I also feel there is more focus on it and interest in it!

Book 'The Dress Diary of Mrs Anne Sykes by Kate Strasdin

In March I joined an online talks by the Fashion + Textile Museum titled 'Secrets From a Victorian Woman’s Wardrobe'. Fascinated by the title already. It was really wonderful to hear and see more on the research done to make the book 'The Dress Diary of Mrs Anne Sykes' by Kate Strasdin. This talk is no longer online, but luckily Kate does many talks, including a two part episode for the podcast 'Dressed, The History of Fashion'. A podcast I can highly recommend, I listen already so many episodes, great background info, very divers; historical dress, famous wearers including Queen Sirikit and even protest wear. But back to Kate, and Mrs Anne Sykes. After being gifted an anonymous sample book, Kate started transcribing the limited handwritten information it contained, finding not only the maker of the sample book, but the wearer and many of the other wearers. The samples bring us from the mills of Lancashire to the port of Singapore. An amazing and fascinating discovery! I haven't yet get myself a copy of the book, since I have must reading work that has to be done, but I highly recommended as your read for the Summer! For now, check out some of the textile samples here '16 stunning Victorian textiles from The Dress Diary of Mrs Anne Sykes'.

One of the wearers who samples were collected by Anne Sykes: Mrs Seddon is another person whose name proved untraceable but whose wardrobe leaps from the page. Hers was especially bright, including a zig zag printed gauze that is almost psychedelic.

Cees de Jonge photographing one of the 50+ batiks at Museum Sophiahof

At the end of March I was able to document 50+ batiks at Museum Sophiahof. All the Batiks are privately owned, not as collectors, but passed on within families. So of most we know who wore them. I met the owners through the different Batik consultations I did over the past 4 years, and thought the time is right to finally document all these beauties & their stories. Some will be included in upcoming projects I am doing, others hopefully soon too. It was amazing to get this photoshoot day organised. The owners who brought their batiks, some only 2 pieces, some 10, waited patiently for me & Cees de Jonge to get them photographed. My poor knees hurt days after, but I am so so so glad these kept important pieces of history are now documented in high res, ready to be shared and researched further. Thanks Yullia & Het Indisch Herinneringscentrum!

The Dress at Museum Kaap Skil in May 2016

The Dress at Museum Kaap Skil in April 2023, photo by Koen de Wit

When in 2016 the news came out about a spectacular textile find, I made a blogpost about it right away: 'Such wonderful news today, I have been captivated by it all day. It sounds like a treasure hunt, the researches themselves say it is like finding something in a hidden room, but it is even better.
In August 2014 divers found textile near a known ship wreck in the Wadden Sea near Texel in The Netherlands. Among the textile finds are a near perfect silk dress, an embroidered etui and never worn stockings. The spectacular news of the find was kept secret till now, so researches had time to explore and make sure what the find was. It now turns out that the ship wreck is dated to be built around 1600. The ship is made of boxwood and by using the tree rings they are pretty sure about this dating. Among the finds is a Jacobs staff, a tool for navigation, with the date '1636' written on it. So these clothing found by the divers are from beginning of the 17th century. That means they were laying on the bottom of the sea for 400 years. One of the divers says in a clip online: "Normally you only read history and now we added something to it"'
To read to full blogpost, go to 'Firm Lady'.
The found sea treasures were on display for one month, before they moved back from Texel to the main land for further research and time to solve important conservation issues. In May of 2016 we went to the Museum Kaap Skil to see The Dress and the other objects. While the dress was impressive then, it was even more impressive 7 years later. 
The Dress and the other objects returned after much research, problems with the divers, who didn't give all the objects right away as was promised, and more research on how to display the objects safely. In a three part docu series 'De jurk en het scheepswrak' {The Dress and the shipwreck} all this leading up towards the final opening at the Museum Kaap Skil is wonderfully shown. It also provides more insights on who the owner, or better wearer of the objects might have been. Only women clothing were found and many objects, like a mirror with comb, suggest it was either going to be a gift, or the wearer was onboard. However due to how it was brought to the surface and since the shipwreck has not been further salvaged, much remains a mystery. So in the permanent exhibition at Kaapskil not much info is shared. Some short videos from different researchers, but no in-depth info. Partly because it is not there and partly I guess to keep it open for later finds. 
Our first holiday of this year, we went camping on Texel so we could go see the dress again. The museum made a special exhibition space to showcase the shipwreck objects, but also updated their other permanent exhibition in which they highlight seafinds according to the different continents with much room for colonial history - really greatly done. 
A must visit, both will be on display for a long time, that is if the special build oxygen free display of The Dress does its work correctly, so go and see!

'Wearing Batik is showing who you are', Wereldverhaal/worldstory for NMvW by me

During our camping trip, my two world stories on Batik got published. One focusses on the making: Worldwide loved and worn but how is Batik made with many photos by me on the making process, next to great images & batiks from the Nationaal Museum voor Wereldculturen/Wereldmuseum. And the other part is on the wearer of Batik; Wearing Batik is showing who you are. Both are in Dutch, but I included many wonderful images, so go check it out!

On the 3 of May I was invited to share on the development of Batik in the 19th century during the webinar on Batik organised by Museum Het Schip. You can watch it back here. Next to the development of Batik, I share also a little bit on the wearers and what stories, even sometimes different historical facts these wearers give us. Watch it back here

For more online content, I want to recommend 'Front and (Off-)Centre: Fashion and Southeast Asia'. I didn't have time to send something in myself, don't know if I would have made it in the program, but there were so many great talks. Spread over two days, 5 & 6 May, Southeast Asian fashion was discussed from a historical point of view, from a more recent past and a longer time ago, zoomed in on modern developments in fashion and there was even room for sustainability activism. It was wonderful to see such a divers group of {new) researchers from Southeast Asia reflecting themselves on Southeast Asian Fashion. A go watch, you find all the recordings here 'Front and (Off-)Centre: Fashion and Southeast Asia'.

Slide from the talk 'Kebaya: The Intersection of Past and Future' by Toton Januar H.N.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) might not be the first that comes to mind when thinking of a wearer. The unknown poet that stayed at home the last 20 years of her life, who collected bird nests and only wore white. After seeing the stunning series Dickinson I must say I am a little obsessed, not just with the series itself, which is a must see and yes I am late to the party, since it ended in 2021. 
In Dickinson we get to know Emily, her family and friends, some famous writers from that time like Henry David Thoreau of the book 'Walden' and Louisa May Alcott of the book 'Little Women', but also their employee in the house and their seamstress Betty. The pretty unknown reality of Emily's life leaves much room for interpretation and there is a very modern twist to the series. However the era and ongoing historical events are portrayed well and clever with always Emily's poems as a main storyline connecting it all. 
I think why I am so obsessed by it, is because it takes place in a time period I am stuck in a lot with my own research. Von Franquemont lived from 1817 till 1867 and the makers and wearers I am researching now are on Java between 1850 -1900. I also really loved the clothing shown in the series. The story takes places before Emily stopped leaving the house, so we get to see house dresses, party dresses and loads of other beautifully made garments. I am not an expert in historical garments at all, but the whole eye for detail is great. 
When we reached the end of the series, it broke my heart a little and spend some time reading more online. I came across an interesting wearer related find. A photograph, a Daguerreotype, was revealed to be the second known portrait (not yet confirmed) of Emily Dickinson. Not new news, since the finding was shared in 2012, but what was striking to me is that a kept fabric sample at Emily Dickinson Museum is believed to match with what Emily is wearing on the photo. Read the full article here A New Dickinson Daguerreotype?

Hailee Steinfeld stars as the poet Emily Dickinson. Photo: Apple

A joint search by Archives and Museum staff members in the Emily Dickinson Museum's textile collection on April 20, 2010, led to the discovery of at least one fabric sample in a blue check that is a candidate for the dress Dickinson wears. 

* Title for this post from Emily Dickinson poem '“Hope” is the thing with feathers'

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