August 4, 2012

Sampler vs. Tampan


Wednesday me and Koen visted the wondefull exhibition 'Magic of Women' at the Wereldmuseum in Rotterdam. You should really visit this exhibition full of beautiful, great quality ikats, tampans, batiks and jewelry. A real must-see, till 9 September!
The exhibition had a big surprise for me. A real beautiful Cinderella Batik from around 1880 signed by A v.d. Berg. It really knocked me of my feet, but I save that for another post!

While watching the Ikats, me and Koen both had to think about "merklappen" (embroidery samplers or exemplar). We recently saw Johanna Schweizer's collection (which includes one she made herself when she was little). She explained to us about the use of symbols and that nowadays a lot of people are collecting Samplers, so it's difficult to come by original, good quality ones.

Thanks to Johanna and Berthi's Weblog I know a little more about a tradition that was pretty big in the Netherlands. It wasn't just a Dutch tradition, it was done in England, Germany, America and probably more western countries.

A sampler (needlework) is a piece of embroidery produced as a demonstration or test of skill in needlework. The oldest Dutch "merklap" is from 1572, but samplers were made even before 1520. The first Samplers were made by expert needlewomen. They were used as real examples, to practice or for references. These samplers were already then expensive, they were often mentioned in royal inventories and bequeathed by will.

In the Netherlands samplers where made by girls from age 5 till 14. Samplers were made after the one their mother made or an own design with mostly biblical symbols and scenes. The young girls had to practice the alphabet and numbers for their future hope chest. In those days linen was brought two times a year to the laundries to bleach it. To avoid theft or exchange a number and a letter were embroided in the linen by the lady of the house.

Around 1880 a education law for primary schools was accepted that girls needed to learn 'fine crafts'. From than on the well-know red embroided school-samplers were made.


The smaller, almost square Ikats from Sumatra, are called Tampans. Tampans are ceremonial cloths produced in large numbers because they are used at all levels of society. When a young girl becomes a women, she is taught the skill of Ikat. The meaning of symbols are passed on to the next generation.*

The Tampan is used for rituals which mark a rite of passage like birth, marriage and death. When young people undergoing ordeals such as circumcision and the filing of teeth rested their heads on a tampan. If a young woman gave such a cloth to an admirer, she was letting him know that his courting efforts were welcome.

"These textiles, with a boat as the central motif, were principally ceremonial and ritual cloths of great importance in Sumatran life. The boat motifs were associated with community and life journey...The ship cloths are linked not only to the ancient animistic religious beliefs of Sumatra but they reflect historical changes in the region. Textiles were enmeshed in cultural transformations of south-east Asia, along with evolving native beliefs and practices, as well as experiences brought about by colonisation and trade. Interestingly, the ship motif changed as a result of different types of vessels sailing through the area, including European and Chinese ships.Sumatran textiles reflect these changes via chronological and regional variations."
- Stuart Humphreys, Australian Museum


Tampan is also called Ship cloth. In almost all tampans a ship forms the center of the cloth. This ship, experts believe it symbolize the rite of passage, is filled with luxuries things and surrounded by water-animals. In most Dutch samplers (merklappen) a house forms the center. This house symbolize (or literally is) the birthplace of the maker. The Tree of Life is also found on most 'merklappen', in an abstract form or with adam, eve and the snake. In Ikats the Tree of Life is also represented, next to animals with the power to regenerate. Deers regenerate their antlers, lobsters regenerate claws and lizards their tail. This Tree of Life doesn't symbolize the lost paradise, but a wish for long life.
Elephants and parasols on tampans are borrowed Indian symbols of power. Tampans with horses are for someone of high status. The monkey on samplers is spinning the thread of life, symbolizing finiteness of life and virtue.
Everything on these cloth, each symbol means something. Each maker put something personal in it, about herself or her family. Cloths showing your skills and knowledge, your wishes and past.


* Information from the catalogue "Magie van de Vrouw. Weefsels en sieraden uit de Gordel van Smaragd"
**All images are found online, most Tampans are from the collection of the Wereldmuseum and Tropenmuseum. Most images of Samplers, are from samplers made in America

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