ANNE WANNER'S Textiles in History   /  exhibitions

The Textile-Museum St.Gallen
Vadianstrasse 2
CH-9000 St.Gallen
tel: ++41 71 222 17 44
fax: ++41 71 223 42 39
opening hours:
mo - sa: 10-12, 14-17
sunday: 10-17,
first wed. every month: 10-17

entrance fees:
sFr. 5.- per person
sFr. 3.- in groups of 10 persons
sFr. 2.- students


Appearances are deceiving

(E C H T oder F A L S C H)

Textilmuseum St.Gallen

18 January until 21 May 2006

  There are many reasons for imitating and faking. There is a close tie between imitation and the idea that "Everything can be made", "Everything is affordable", "Everything you can do I can do better", and "I want that, too".

The opposite of an imitation is the original. But is the original really the original? Is this original not based on something that was also genuine? When all is said and done: is there anything that is really "genuine"?
When it comes to textiles, research into genuine work and fakes refers to aspects of the materials, patterns, techniques and origins.

A selection from a wealth of examples from the 15th century to the present day will confound visitors to the exhibition with deceptively genuine-looking imitations and genuinely deceptive originals.

Can Venetian lace be distinguished from lace embroidered in St.Gallen? Did Breton women wear bonnet backs from the Appenzellerland with their costumes? Does the tablecloth made in Appenzell hand embroidery come from Madeira? Was St.Gallen embroidery copied in East Asia



  These are the questions that provide the focus of the exhibition entitled "Genuine or fake? – Appearances are deceptive" from 18 January to 21 May 2006. Its point of departure is St.Gallen's textile history.
  Fakes in the 15th century

Eastern Swiss textile manufacturers expanded their commercial interests beyond the national borders at an early stage. In the 15th century, St.Gallen linen was sold throughout Europe and from Morocco to Syria and Persia. Part of the "white gold's" success was quality assurance. The good fabrics received were marked with "G", a quality seal recognised in all the markets. Old documents evince, however, that such seals were no protection against fakes. In 1477, for example, an Arbon merchant was exposed who offered linen fabrics marked with a faked "G" at a Frankfurt trade fair.

French products from Eastern Switzerland
From the second half of the 18th century onwards, Eastern Swiss women started to embroider muslin, with Appenzell women proving particularly skilful. French companies from Paris and Nancy sent fabrics on which patterns had been printed to the Appenzellerland to be embroidered there. In the 1830s, the Appenzell embroidery firms emancipated themselves and designed their own patterns. Even so, France still sold Appenzell embroideries as its own products as late as the World Exhibition of 1889.

"Hamburghs" from St. Gallen in North America
In 1853, a Hamburg businessman purchased a large volume of machine embroideries in St.Gallen for a New York company. In the US, he sold them as "Hamburghs" in order to deceive his competitors about the actual source of these new articles. It was not long, however, before North American customers bought their goods directly in St.Gallen.

Industrial espionage
he city of Plauen in Saxony carried out industrial espionage in 1857 by moving a hand-embroidery machine from St.Gallen to Plauen and wooed the necessary mechanics and embroiderers away from St.Gallen.
On the look-out for better earnings, Eastern Swiss embroiderers and their families moved to St. Quentin (Department of Aisne, France) in the late 19th century.
Both Plauen and St. Quentin became St.Gallen's competitors

St. Gallen embroidery from Plauen

Imitations of genuine lace
The development of machine-produced embroideries was perfected on a constant basis. Only experts remained able to distinguish between high-quality machine embroidery and hand embroidery.
For resourceful St.Gallen businessmen, the invention of burnt-out embroidery in 1883 opened up broad new horizons for the embroidered imitation of hand-made lace. The so-called "St.Gallen lace" would earn world renown.

In the 19th century, Switzerland had textile finishing agreements with various countries. This meant that fabrics could be embroidered, or the embroideries on them completed, in other countries more or less without payment of customs duties. Thus, in times of great demand, St.Gallen companies had part of their products finished in the Austrian Vorarlberg or in Saxon Plauen. Conversely, they finished woollen fabrics for English companies. France did not permit any finishing trade, which prompted St.Gallen firms to operate embroidery machines in France.

Product piracy – more topical than ever
The big issue for the embroidery industry has always been the imitation of patterns. Newly designed patterns provided no guarantee that the general public would like them. The imitators of embroideries were able to wait for the most popular patterns without making large-scale investments in new designs, and pattern pirates increased their profits by reducing the number of stitches and by using cheaper materials.

Ten to fifteen years ago, digital technology made it possible for patterns to be copied a short time after the presentation of the latest collections. Clothes manufacturers were thus able to have their fabrics produced at low cost without having to order the expensive originals from Swiss companies.

In more recent years, it has not only been the patterns that have been copied, but even finished products such as entire garments or accessories. The losses that such fakes generate for the Swiss textile industry run into millions of francs

Ursula Karbacher, lic. phil. I, Curator

home content Last revised 27 January 2006 For further information contact Anne Wanner