Guest post by Alison Elliot
This year, two students from the Manchester School of Art have benefitted enormously from an adventure into the continent. Kazna Asker and Kate Askham, both toward the end of their second year of their three year degree course, are the first interns to take part in a scheme to link fashion and textile design students from Manchester with an unique and accessible research collection of textiles and dress.
The Textile Research Centre (TRC) in Leiden, the Netherlands, is not a museum. As a research centre, its core purpose is to make its more than 20,000 artefacts, and its extensive textiles library, accessible to anyone who is interested. The director of the TRC, Dr. Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, who herself studied design history at Manchester, is adamant that in-depth learning about textiles is crucial to all textile users. Appreciating the skills of textile production, and preserving those skills for the future, lie at the heart of her mission. Exhibitions at the TRC and online are accessible to everyone, and so are TRC Needles, which is an online encyclopaedia of needlework. There is also a diverse programme of courses, workshops, lectures and events. It comes as no surprise that this unique facility is creating more and more interest internationally.
What the students have to say
I really didn’t know anything about textiles, or their significance, until I started my course at Manchester Metropolitan University. I'm doing a three-year degree focusing on fashion design and how to design clothing and textiles from scratch. There is a strong focus on good research and my tutor’s industry experience helps me to think about the context and relevance of my designs.
My TRC internship enables me to bridge gaps in my knowledge. I now understand how crucial it is to grasp every process in textiles production, so that I can design properly. At the TRC I've learnt about the technical skills from different cultures and as a person of Yemeni heritage, I now appreciate in full just how talented Middle Eastern women working in textiles really are.
My internship has taught me to design while knowing what I'm talking about, rather than using the past or other cultures as a gimmick. Within the TRC there is a whole world of textiles literally at our finger tips. I will leave with a lot more technical knowledge that I couldn’t have gained elsewhere and for me, it's proved a perfect match for my Middle Eastern research.
My tutors visited the TRC a couple of months before I came over, and realised what a superb resource it could be for training. They suggested that access to the archival collection of textiles and the library would be invaluable.
Leiden is so quiet; a real culture shock after being in Manchester for two years. Being here gives me time and space to think, whilst using the wealth of hands-on information to support my work. And it really is ‘hands on’. I can handle any item in the TRC collection, examine it closely, understand the techniques that went into its construction, try out the full range of textile processes, and take as many photographs as I like. I arrived here thinking that I knew quite a bit about textiles; now I know there is so much more to learn beneath the surface.
I now understand that design must have a human focus. Textile design must relate to the processes involved in production and to how people will use those textiles. There is such a trap that designers can fall into; ‘re-churning’ ideas, rather than using research to help them develop new ones. When I leave the TRC, I'll be armed with a better understanding of what I like about textiles and why. All textiles students need access to this kind of experience. I owe a massive thank you to Gillian for sharing her expertise with such enthusiasm and generosity.
There you have it, a prompt to make the most of this wonderful resource, tucked away down a quiet street in the beautiful, ancient university city of Leiden. Do make a visit.