Today I spent a wonderful long afternoon at the Audax Textile Museum in Tilburg. It was my first visit back since their renovation. It remains firmly in my Top 5 museums globally. What impresses me is how they combine so many different elements, historical and contemporary, to make it a super exciting and inspiring museum. It is palpably a place of study and creation combined. Yes, for the textile buff, but also from a multitude of other angles - local and industrial history, contemporary art and design (and a good gift shop). It was where I first encountered and came to to love the work of Erwin Wurm, an artist I still wouldn't automatically associate with textiles.
What really makes this an amazing resource is that all the historic equipment is still functioning (and very much in use), and sits only slightly removed from the most cutting edge machines you could wish to lay your hands on. The museum collaborates and commissions projects on all their equipment. My hands and brain just get itchy to come up with ideas to make use of them all.
My first stop was the reference library. I didn't realise
it closes early on a Friday. Luckily someone took pity on me having come
all the way from London, did a little nudging and I was able to have a
quick look. A series of books from the National Knitted Outerwear
Association in the 1960s; detailed how-tos of setting up a factory and
producing knits, quickly caught my eye. They were fascinating and an
excellent reminder of how quickly and how far from manufacturing the USA has moved.
From that very glossy room I wandered down to the historical
wool blanket factory, where you can see all the different stages of
My favourite component? The blankets were made fuzzy with thistles!
The kind you can make Mrs Tiggy-Winkles with (potpourri filled belly
optional). It is immensely satisfying to think of such an unadulterated
natural thing being an essential part of a big machine. It would have
been someone's task to go and harvest replacements at the right time of
year! That sort of thing would give me some job satisfaction, even
though, from listening to the interviews in the exhibition that looks at
the history of the textile industry in the region (and it's decline) I
understand it was hard hard work. Regardless, it is hard to not be a
This is the steam engine that would have powered the works.
More beautiful old equipment were the looms for weaving ribbon. It is mind boggling to think that someone came up with these machines to each have a tiny and integrally different function, be that to make a specific kind of floral, lace, or fringed ribbon. The machines themselves are super engaging to look, at both still and in action.
Wandering through to the bigger looms, passed an exhibition of tea sets matched with linens through the ages, I am struck by the density of the structures and their history.
These damask looms are still in use at the museum to produce textiles in collaboration with artists and designers. This is where the museum shop comes in to it's own. I've noticed their wares popping up in the other design shops I dipped in to across The Netherlands. Of anywhere I know, this is the land of interior decoration with a clever undercurrent.
But back to those looms: the knots holding the warp were beautiful in themselves.
A peak underneath revealed these elaborate weights. Like handmade birthday candles for a staunch minimalist or pasta made from elephant. They could be a work of art in themselves...
Then on to the Textile Lab, where the shiny new equipment resides. My mind is ticking over what project I would like to do here. Both students and professionals can book in to make use of the equipment, either handing over the process, or doing it in cahoots with the technicians. What a dream a residency here would be!
I was lucky to come on a quiet day, as I my curiosity could be indulged by the very friendly and abundantly geeky technicians. Another great incentive.
I got puffed in the face by a Shima Seiki glove machine awaiting a part.
It spits out a glove in 3 minutes! It is crazy to watch, especially
bearing in mind how quickly (slowly) I usually watch gloves being made
from a similar angle by my own hands. The machine starts knitting the
tip of the pinky and goes from there, finger by finger down to the cuff.
The technician explained that this is because the machine can't reduce.
This circular knitting machine looks like a grandma Dalek to me.
And this Stoll chunky knitting machine really got me fantasising...
What additionally sets this museum apart is how engaged the staff are. Not just those in meet and greet roles: the generosity of the technicians and the gallery attendants, let alone the library staff who let me in on their quiet time, always gives me the warm fuzzies.
I had a good old chat with Mohammed who was keeping an eye on the Christien Meindertsma (now my latest designer crush) exhibition (unfortunately, but understandably no pictures allowed from in there). Both of us somewhat Dutch in entirely different ways, our conversation was sparked by her colour and function catalogued display table of items confiscated at Schiphol - so clearly from a Dutch airport. Everyone was trying to travel with an aardapple mesje (a potato knife, of course).
I must find a way to visit more regularly.