“Dutch Textiles in Global History”: Abstracts

Fibres, yarns and fabrics: cotton textiles in the Netherlands and Britain before mechanisation, 1600-1760

John Styles

Between 1600 and 1760, the history of cotton textiles in the Netherlands and Britain displays many similarities – the rise of fustian weaving, huge imports of cottons from India, slave-trading with cotton textiles in West Africa, the development of successful calico-printing. Yet over the long term, the British experience was one of growth and sustained innovation, both in processes and products, while the Netherlands witnessed fragmentation and some declines. This paper will compare the two histories, with an emphasis on materiality. It offers an analysis that distinguishes between raw cotton fibres, cotton yarns, and cotton fabrics.


Rivalry for trade in textiles revisited. The Dutch East India and English East India companies and the European market for Indian textiles (1700-1800)

Chris Nierstrasz

East India companies competed for Indian textiles on a global scale. They vied to purchase in India the best quality textiles against the best possible price, while in Europe they competed for the same markets which all required their specific types of textiles. The Dutch Republic’s liberal attitude towards painted and printed Indian textiles is sometimes said to have drowned out their own textiles industries. In England, the restrictive measures against printed and painted textiles and the importation of white Indian textiles to print on, is said have supported the process of import substitution that might have led to the Industrial Revolution. On the basis of primary source, we will ask the following questions in this presentation. Are the different attitudes towards Indian textiles of their home countries visible in the varieties of Indian textiles that the Dutch and English East India companies brought home? And which company profited most from the attitude of their home country towards Indian textiles and why?


The origin of the Japanse syde rocken or Japonsche rocken: from imperial gift to status symbol

Bianca M. Du Mortier

Once the Dutch had established a foothold in Japan with the objective of trading, it was vital to stay in close contact with the Japanese ruler and his government. This evolved into an annual trip by the governor of the Dutch East India company and his retinue to the Japanese capital of Edo for an extended visit with talks concerning trade and politics, as well as an audience with the emperor and a complex system of reciprocal bestowing of expensive gifts. The most cherished imperial gift was the group of 10-30 ’Japanse syde rocken’, the number of which was frequently increased by gowns donated by members of government or other dignitaries. Unfortunately none of these early gifted Japanse syde rocken have ever been depicted or described by any of the original recipients. We do however know that by the mid 1640’s they had become a rare and thus highly desirable commodity in the Netherlands, quickly turning into a status symbol. This paper will trace some of the early references and show how the craze for these wadded gowns quickly caught on and turned into big business for the Dutch East India company, well into the 18th century.


“Kimonos” and their Inspired Products as Embodiments of Global Interconnectivity

Keiko Suzuki

This presentation focuses on distinctive development of “kimonos” and their inspired products in the West in terms of their forms. By doing so, the presentation intends to examine how these products embody global interconnectivity—how they were to connect or disconnect Japan to the West through trade. It is a well-known fact that the Dutch East Indian Company introduced “kimonos” to the West in the seventeenth century. Since then, however, the kimonos had adapted to the contemporary western lifestyle. As a result, for example, RKD (Netherlands Institute for Art History) defines “Japonsche rock,” translated as “Japanese banyan” as follows: “Loose-fitting men’s robes that extend only to informal wear from the 17th to the beginning of the 19th century, originally after the Japanese kimono, but later also the collective name for similar, but less kimono-like, robes.” (https://rkd.nl/en/explore/portraits/record?query=banyan&start=1).

In order to investigate how much or how little these robes are kimono-like—a question of continuity and change through transcultural adaptation (domestication), my presentation focuses on their forms, examining some of the extant Japonsche rockken in Dutch museums and their visual representations in Dutch paintings, as well as comparing them with contemporary kimonos called kosode (a prototype of present-day kimonos) and yogi (nightclothes) in Edo-period Japan (1603-1868). While some art historians have discussed this point, I hope to complement the discussion with my research, based on material culture.

What my research reveals is that, while the researched Japonsche rockken show distinctive development with alterations, adjusted according to functional changes of these robes in the West, their basic structure might be closer to yogi than kosode. Yogi is a heavy kimono-like quilt, used as a comforter at night in the Edo period. Thinking Japonsche rockken as such makes us better understand where their distinctive collar, sleeves, bodice, and padding were derived from, besides the fact that a Japanese-style sash was no longer an integral part of wearing the robe. For example, even given consideration to the fact that the kimono collar in the early Edo period (the 17th and 18th centuries) was much longer than the present-day counterpart, extended to the knee, one collar of the investigated Japonsche rockken was extended to the hem. Moreover, the contemporary Dutch paintings show portrait sitters in Japonsche rock with fully-padded collar being turned outside, as opposed to the way in which the Japanese have worn kimono. These features suggest Japonsche rockken are closer to yogi than kosode.

With this research, I would like to address the potential of material culture-based research, which shall lead us to better understanding of and further discussion on the global interconnectivity.


Jawa sarasa. The Dutch agency in introducing to Japan batik and batik-related textiles.

Maria Wronska-Friend

Dutch traders were instrumental in introducing to Japan the aesthetics and knowledge of Javanese batik textiles. This was an indirect process, initiated in the 17th century, and continued for approximately three centuries. Between 1641 and 1854 the Dutch were the sole European traders to Japan. Indian textiles, in Japan known as sarasa, were among the most important goods traded by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) to Japan. As the ships departed from the ports of Java, kain sembagi ― Indian textiles produced for Indonesian market and decorated with motifs favoured the local population, were frequently added to the cargo dispatched to Japan. Those textiles were highly appreciated by Japanese noblemen and merchant class, incorporated into dress items or used as ceremonial cloths.

At the end of the 18th century, proper Javanese batik was recognised in Japan as a distinctive group of textiles. The first description of the batik technique in the Japanese language, based on information provided by the Dutch, dates back to 1781. From the early 19th century, the trade to Japan was facilitated by the Netherlands Trading Society (Nederlandsche Handelmaatschappij). In 1820, textile producers of The United Kingdom of the Netherlands started to print batik imitations for the lower strata of the Javanese population. In 1829 the first samples of such fabrics, batiksche sitzen (batik chintz), were sent to the Dutch trading post in Nagasaki. In the following decades, Dutch batik imitations were frequently used in Japan as a cloth for undergarments or obi. The Dutch agency lost its significance towards the end of the 19th century. The beginning of the Meiji Restoration (1868) marked the opening of Japan to the outside world and the establishment of direct commercial and cultural contacts with foreign countries, including the Dutch East Indies.


The Fabric of Global Commerce: Indian Ocean Africa and the Textile Industry

Jeremy Prestholdt

The history of industrially produced, imported cotton textiles in Indian Ocean Africa evidences the vitality of cloth as an object both fabricated and creatively adapted.  Indian, British, American, Dutch, and Japanese-manufactured cotton goods were altered, elaborated, and reimagined in Indian Ocean Africa to meet the variegated and changing demands of nineteenth and twentieth century consumers.  This complementary process of manufacture and alteration made industrial cotton goods central to the social and economic lives of people along Africa’s Indian Ocean seaboard.  In this paper I highlight ways in which multiple actors created socioeconomic value for Indian Ocean African markets between the mid-nineteenth century and the late colonial era.  I suggest that a holistic view of cotton goods can reveal the intertwined processes not only of manufacturing, commerce, and adornment, but also alteration, tailoring, and other forms of assembly.  By recognizing cloth as a dynamic socioeconomic object elaborated by a range of actors across multiple regions, this paper offers insight into the creation and augmentation of value.  And it emphasizes how processes of value adding defined complex relationships among producers and consumers.


Relocation and resilience. Global shifts in textile production from the perspective of Dutch history

Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk, Corinne Boter, Kate Frederick and Sarah Carmichael

This paper aims to illustrate how the inclusion of household-level production and consumption choices can help explain the historical relocation of textile production across the globe, based on the case study of the Dutch Empire – the Kingdom of the Netherlands and one of its most important colonies, the Netherlands East Indies. However, we will also make references to developments elsewhere in the world, as comparisons, contrasts, and connections to other localities may help elucidate our argument. We will address three different, yet interconnected, sets of questions, which all address problems with macro-economic explanations by economists and historians. The first regards the relationship between trade and (de)industrialization. By breaking down the trade flows from the Netherlands to Java into specific products, we show that these trade relations did not lead to the disappearance of the Javanese textile industry – as Jeffrey Williamson’s theory on globalization and de-industrialization of the “periphery” suggests – but rather changed focus. The second set of questions considers what role local consumption preferences played in the relocation of global textile manufacturing. In this section, we again consider developments in the Dutch Empire, but compare these to developments in East Africa. The third relates to the experience of textile labourers themselves and explores changes in the gender division of labour and household income generating strategies. Although this article primarily focuses on the history of Dutch textile trade, consumption, and production in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, we argue that taking a global approach is vital to ultimately gain a better understanding of the history of textile production.


The Netherlands, Britain and the Worsted Textile Market in Japan, c1850-1870.

Miki Sugiura

 With the opening of ports, trade and market, the demand for European textiles in Japan, in particular worsted textiles, increased rapidly in 1850s-1860s. In addition, within two decades, Japan’s consumer preference for worsted textiles changed dramatically from the Dutch-related grofgrijn, to the Britain-related cotton-wool mixed fabrics, to the lighter worsted-crepes. Underlying Japan’s boost and changing consumer preference was the dramatic drop in the global prices of worsted textiles. Despite having pioneer advantage of monopolizing the European textile exports to Japan for over two centuries and being the initiator of the worsted textile boom, the Netherlands quickly lost its textile market share after 1858 to Britain. This paper revisits the factors that led to this shift from multiple perspectives. By focusing on worsted textiles, the paper emphasizes the force of local consumer preference formation in Japan and highlights the different path Dutch and British worsted industries took facing the global market transformation in the 1850-1860s.


Dutch Textile Designs and Japanese African Prints, 1950s-1980s

Aya Ueda

The so-called African prints were the printed cotton dress fabrics that were produced in various countries including NL, UK, Switzerland and Japan and were exported mainly to West and Central Africa. This paper analyzes the role Dutch textile designs played in the making of African prints in Japan, focusing in particular on the products of Vlisco Netherlands B.V. and Daido-Maruta Finishing, Co., Ltd. a major dye and printing firm in Kyoto, Japan. Japan began exporting printed fabrics to Africa in 1927, indirectly through the hands of UK and France trading firms. Soon after WWII, Japanese textile industry restarted spinning, weaving and printing cotton textiles using US raw cotton, exporting cheaper range of cotton textiles to South China, Southeast Asia and Africa. The recovery was smooth. Direct entry to African market started in 1958, around the time of African independence. It was the time when the Dutch leading firm of African Prints, Vlisco was at its peak of production, creating lines of new designs one after another. “Angelina”, green ground prints called Java prints was one of Vlisco’s popular products. Japan soon rivalled NL, having their own popular products, such as Daido’s “Green Wax”, machine printed textile highly inspired by Vlisco’s ‘Angelina’. Daido succeeded Green Wax to be considered as one independent genre of luxury textiles, rather than imitations of Dutch prints in the African market.

Analyzing a number of Vlisco samples in Daido-Maruta Collection at the Museum and Archives, Kyoto Institute of Technology, the paper points out the intricate relationships between Dutch textiles and Japanese African prints products, highlighting the aspects of design, techniques, terminology and price range. Furthermore, the paper provides an overview on how Indian and Indonesian textiles were intertwined to the process, focusing on the initial acceptance of designs and modernization of textile production in both regions. Thus, the paper aims to clarify the characteristics of Dutch textile designs on African prints through analyzing the making of Japanese African Textiles between the 1950s-1980s.