“iigfädlet”* – Eastern Switzerland’s textile history

“iigfädlet”* – Eastern Switzerland’s textile history

Exhibitions and events until 29 October 2017

by Brigitte von Bergen

Eight museums in the cantons of St. Gallen and Appenzell Ausserrhoden are involved in the representation of regional textile history. For “Eastern Switzerland is undoubtedly one of the outstanding historical textile regions; not only in Switzerland, but in Europe”, says Dr Matthias Weishaupt, Landammann AR (Chief magistrate for the canton) at the vernissage of the exhibition in the Textilemuseum St. Gallen. In the country, materials were produced for the world market in homework or in factories, and they were traded in the centres. Even today, high-quality fabrics are embroidered here for an international clientele. Museum curator Isabelle Chappuis was delighted in her opening speech on the successful cooperation.
All eight exhibitions and their respective historical background are presented in a richly illustrated book (please note opening hours!). This includes the people’s life situations who lived and worked there. Questions are asked about who “threaded in, embroidered, wove, cut and made up” (Landammann Weishaupt).

“Manufacturers and manipulators. The textile industry in Eastern Switzerland” (Textilemuseum St. Gallen)

The concept of the exhibition consists of five sections: the manufacturers and manipulators, the workers, the designers, the inventors and the entrepreneurs. The patterns of embroidered fabrics that are exhibited are rich in embroidery, patterns and colours. Fabric patterns of St. Gallen embroidery on white cotton are collected in large sample books. In the showcases some magnificent dresses can be seen, embroidered with “Kettelistich” (chain stitch) or with the traditional St. Gallen embroidery or even with beautiful Guipure laces. Likewise tulle curtains with fine embroidery. The designers developed more and more sophisticated, richly embroidered fabrics for the haute couture and luxurious decoration fabrics for the living area. Although today mostly machines are used, there is still the Appenzell hand embroidery for the production of traditional costumes.

“Fergger wanted – Professions in the textile industry“ (Appenzell Ethnographic Museum in Stein)

In the 19th century, Appenzell AR changed from a purely rural and alpine region to the highly industrialised textile canton. This is reflected, for example, in the job advertisements, in the “Appenzeller Zeitung” from 1828 up to the crises years around the First World War. Eastern Swiss textile companies are looking for men and women for factory or home work. Many of the advertised professions are hardly known anymore: What was the activity of the “Andreherin”, the “Fergger”, the “Fludersticker”, the “Verschneiderin”(tailor) or the “Seidenspitzenstreicher”?
Child labor is also a topic, since this wasn’t as widespread in any other canton of Switzerland as in Ausserrhoden in the 19th century. The first Swiss factory law of 1877 prohibited the employment of children under the age of 14; however, the paragraphs were not applied to children employed in homework. All this had consequences of a social nature, since the work in the damp web-cellars was not only badly paid, but also harmful to health. The exhibition gives insight into the world of forgotten professions in weaving, embroidery and finishing companies. To this day one can admire the typical “Weberhöckli” and “Sticklokale” (embroidery workshops) in the Appenzell region.

“Twisting, knitting, mercerising – factory work” (Museum Herisau)

Today’s textile companies from Ausserrhoden are presented here, too. The first factory called “Fabrique” in the Appenzell region was established in Herisau in 1737 – a textile printing company. The mechanisation, which began in 1780, paved the way for the existing factory. At that time thousands of hands were busy with bleaching, twisting, knitting, etc. Today, these companies focus on the finishing of cotton, on the one hand and on innovative fabrics for medicine, architecture, the automotive industry and for production companies on the other hand.

“Textile House Views in Toggenburg” (Museum Ackerhus Ebnat-Kappel)

Toggenburg house architecture and textile history in Eastern Switzerland have been closely connected for 400 years. To this day, the wet web cellars, the “Sticklokal “with big windows,  the merchant’s house, the factory buildings, lodging houses and modern factory settlements, as well as the manufacturers’ villas, bear witnesses of Eastern Switzerland’s textile work.

 “Homedress – of wall and robe” (“Zeughaus” (Armoury) Teufen)

In the city of Teufen it is about the processing of the fabrics. Here, the visitor can see the craftsmen working, directly transmitted from the studios and sewing rooms. The development of fabric objects and clothing, from underpants to sports shoes, can be witnessed by means of designs. At the end of the exhibition the finished products are presented in a fashion show.
“Borderland – Jacob Rohner and the time of embroidery in the Rhine Valley” (Prestegg Museum in Altstätten)
After the invention of the hand embroidery machine in the 1850s the Rhine Valley of St. Gallen flourished. Embroiderer families bought a hand embroidery machine on deposit, built a “Sticklokal” and worked as a whole family almost day and night. Towards the end of the 19th century the “Schiffli” embroider machine was being introduced and thus the trend towards factory production began. Jacob Rohner relied on this change. Soon he owned five factories. In the exhibition many noble embroidered fabrics and clothes from private property are to be seen. In 1988, the fourth generation of owners sold the traditional company to Forster Willi AG, now Forster Rohner AG. Rohner socks are still produced today in Balgach and are known all over Switzerland.

“Ladders – chances and social responsibility” (Museum Heiden)

The stocking factory, founded in 1930 in Heiden was a sign of a progressive development. It produced warm socks and hard-wearing stockings, until the nylon stockings conquered the market in the 1950s. New materials required new machines and high investments. Unfortunately, the company went bankrupt in 1993. In the exhibition, residents and former employees talk about this dramatic development and they describe the importance of the stocking factory for them.

“Textile work – passion or fate” (“Appenzeller Brauchtumsmuseum” in Urnäsch)

Urnäsch has never been dominated by the textile industry. Here, the main focus was on alpine dairy, agriculture and trade. The exhibition focuses on the time after 1950. People tell impressively about their daily work routine in video interviews. •

* “threaded in” – Swiss German

(Translation Current Concerns)

Eastern Switzerland’s textile history

The Linen Age – The white gold 1200 to 1700

Since the Middle Ages, linen fabrics have been produced in Eastern Switzerland as exclusive export goods. Linen is also known as “white gold”, because the trade in fabrics brings great wealth to traders. However, the income of the workers, craftsmen and farmers involved is modest and uncertain.
The flax plant, the raw material for linen, grows very well in the region around Lake Constance. The St. Gall-based companies produce high quality linen fabrics. Already in the 13th century, fabrics were traded internationally. A trading network was being created that extends from North Africa to Russia and Turkey.

Cotton – the beginning of the industrialisation from 1750 to 1850

From 1730 onwards, cotton from Africa replaced the more expensive linen. Almost 50 years later, industrialisation in England was accelerating and fundamentally changing the Swiss textile industry.
With the rise of cotton in Eastern Switzerland, mixed fabric with linen, known as “Barchent”, was first produced and later pure cotton fabric. Very fine cotton fabrics, so-called mousselines, were particularly popular with buyers.
The first mechanical spinning machines in Switzerland were installed in the St. Gall monastery around 1800. Hand spinners and weavers were increasingly being replaced by machines. The first factories were built. Around 1800, thanks to the textile industry, Switzerland was the country with the most machines on the European continent. At that time, the centre of the mechanical spinning mill in Switzerland was the canton of Zurich.

The embroidery period – “The golden years” 1850 to 1914

From 1750 onwards, the cotton fabrics in Eastern Switzerland were decorated with embroidery. The embroidery was first crafted by hand and from 1850 onwards it was increasingly machine-made.
The success of embroidery was based on the tradition of dividing production into individual steps – spinning, weaving, embroidering and finishing.
Different, highly specialized companies or persons carried out the individual work. Thanks in particular to machine embroidery, St. Gallen was internationally successful until 1912. The technique of mechanical production of the “Broderie Anglaise” or the “Guipure” was  invented here and made St. Gall world-famous. Embroidery was very popular in America and France.

The embroidery crisis from 1914 to 1950

The embroidery industry in Eastern Switzerland flourished around 1912. Two out of three employees lived on embroidery. Only ten years later, there was talk of a “massive depression”. By 1930, almost 17,000 embroidery machines were scrapped in Eastern Switzerland. The scrapping premiums were paid by the Swiss government in order to break the one-sided orientation of Eastern Switzerland towards textile fabric. Many people impoverished.

Eastern Switzerland 1945 to the present day

Today, the companies focus on high-priced niche products for haute couture, lingerie or innovative fabrics for medicine, architecture or the automotive industry.

Source: “Ostschweizer Rundschau” from 6 June 2017

(Translation Current Concerns)

Events in the individual museums in October 2017

10 Oct.  Tuesday, 6.30 pm    Folklore Museum Stein, Appenzell:”Telling of everyday life and work” (lecture)
25 Oct. Wednesday, 7.00 pm Cinétreff Herisau:”Das Menschlein Matthias” (Dialect film)
27 Oct. Friday, 7:00 pm Appenzell Customs Museum Urnäsch: “Textile factories in Urnäsch“(lecture)
29 Oct. Sunday, 2.00 – 4.00 pm Zeughaus  Teufen: “Kleider machen Leute machen Kleider III: Ergebnisse” (“Clothes make the man makes dresses III: Results”)(fashion show)
29 Oct. Sunday, 2 pm Museum Ackerhus Ebnat-Kappel: Public guided tour
29 Oct. Sunday, 11 am Museum Heiden: “Finissage with public guided tour”

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