Dutch Wax Textiles

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Hear the amazing story of how Dutch and English machine-made copies of Indonesian Batik, destined for the South-East Asian market in 1900, became an unexpected success on the West Coast of Africa.

There, these copies of batik got a new identity. Today, over 100 years later, many of these designs are still in print and have become an archetype of African dress and cultural heritage. Vlisco, a Dutch company founded in 1846, continues to produce high quality ‘Dutch Wax’ fabric and their classic designs, created at the turn of the 20th century, still represent 80% of their sales. Dutch Wax prints are also popular with contemporary fashion designers and have formed a crucial element in the work of contemporary artist Yinka Shonibare. They were also used to spectacular effect on an episode of the BBC Great British Sewing Bee in 2016.

Dutch textile historian Helen Elands presents new research drawing on Dutch, English and Swiss archives to reconstruct the story of these designs – from the original collections, their export to West Africa and their recognition by the local clientele. She details the role played by the Dutch company directed by J.B.T. Previnaire, known as the Haarlemsche Katoen Maatschappij (Haarlem Cotton Company – HKM), as well as the British merchant Ebenezer Brown Fleming, who first introduced the wax prints of HKM to the West-African market. They became an immediate success in West-Africa, where they were not compared with the original batiks, but appreciated for their own character and outstanding quality. Brown Fleming also – unlike his competitors – added designs and motifs to the taste of the African patronage. Hundreds of cloth samples in perfect condition, even from the very first period have been found, to provide a compelling visual history, and Elands compares the original textile prints with more recent prints of the same design.

Helen Elands is a leading textile historian and author. She is an expert on the European production and export of wax prints to West-Africa and is currently developing a major exhibition on the subject with the art historian and curator Paul Faber. In the 1980s, under her maiden name Helen Boterenbrood she worked with Weverij De Ploeg in Bergeijk, the Netherlands to create a company archive of cloth, sample books and promotional material, and later as head of product presentation and public relations for the business. Her books and exhibitions include Weverij de Ploeg 1923-1957, (Dutch Textile Museum Tilburg 1984), Weverij De Ploeg (Rotterdam), 14 ontwerpen voor Weverij De Ploeg (Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam 1989).

The event starts at 6pm with a glass of wine in the Museum foyer and opportunity to view the exhibition Josef Frank: Patterns – Furniture – Painting; the talk follows at 6.15pm for 6.20pm in the Fashion Studio and lasts for approximately one hour including the chance to ask questions at the end. Ticket includes admission to the exhibition and guests are welcome to view this before or after the talk.

Price £15 / £12 students includes a complimentary drink and exhibition entry.

Venue Details & Map

Fashion and Textile Museum

83 Bermondsey Street
+44 (0)20 7407 8664
Public transport:
From London Bridge Station walk towards Tower Bridge down Tooley Street for about 3 minutes. Then turn right in Bermondsey Street. The museum is on the left hand side of the street.

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