A tribute to the Glarner Tüechli
How a printed piece of fabric from the Glarus region made it halfway around the world and back again.
In the 17th century, seafarers brought colorfully printed fabrics from India to Europe. These cotton prints called "Indiennes" caused a sensation with their vivid patterns and colourful splendour and were sold like clothing fabrics, upholstery and wall coverings.
After 1678, manufactories were set up in Holland, England and Germany which printed cotton fabrics in Indian style. Huguenots who fled France did a lot of building work. In the Swiss Confederation they founded the first printing works, in 1691 in Geneva and in 1715 in Neuchâtel. Soon other printing works were established in Aargau, Bern, Basel, Zurich and 1740 in Glarus and 1765 in Islikon. After 1750 cotton and linen printing flourished in France and in the 19th century England, the canton of Glarus and the Mühlhausen region in the Alsace developed into the most important centres of textile printing in Europe.
Time-consuming hand printing with wooden models remained predominant well into the 19th century. From 1780 onwards, however, inventive minds were increasingly successful in mechanising the printing process to increase production. The triumphal march of chemical dyes after 1860 was equally significant. At the same time, machine textile printing experienced a huge upswing in many countries, and gradually it completely replaced the old hand printing with models.
The unique boom of the Glarus textile industry began after 1815. In the Glarus lowlands and midlands, numerous larger and smaller textile printing works began operations. After 1822 more than 20 spinning and weaving mills settled on the Linth and its feeder rivers.
Glarus trading companies and the manufacturers themselves took care of the worldwide distribution of the cotton and linen prints. They constantly opened up new sales areas by carrying out market research and carefully adapting their articles to customer requirements. This development reached its peak around 1865. Of the approximately 35,000 inhabitants of the canton of Glarus, 6250 worked in the 22 printing plants, with women, daughters and boys making up more than half of the workforce. Mainly by hand, they printed around 48 million metres of fabric in one year. Among the Swiss cantons, Glarus took the first place in the cotton and linen printing plants, the second in the white weaving mills and the third in the cotton spinning mills. This one-sided industrial development soon had negative consequences, especially as the printing companies were completely dependent on exports and were therefore susceptible to crises.
The Glarus Tüechli a symbol cloth
The original use of the square Glarner Tüechli was purely practical - and also reserved for men, as the fine ladies preferred handkerchiefs made of St. Gallen lace. At the end of the 19th century, the printed handkerchief was part of the working gown, and men used it as a handkerchief. Snuff was very popular at the time, and those who were a bit on their toes did not simply blow it out onto the street, but into the handkerchief carried in their trouser pockets. But how did the oriental paisley pattern, which comes from the Indian region of Kashmir, get into the zigzag slit at all?
This is due to a certain Conrad Blumer, who was one of the first to undertake a business trip to Jakarta in 1840. The textile entrepreneur from Schwanden set off to open up new markets for his fabric production, which flourished with the onset of industrialisation. From his travels to the Far East, Blumer brought along, among other things, the batik pattern, a combination of geometric borders and the Paisley pattern imported earlier.
But before the Glarner Tüechli - this brand name was created around 1970 - was popular in the home country, it took a detour. It was exported back to Asia as a mass product and sold there. Thanks to serial production, the prices were lower than those of the local textiles, which were still handmade at the time. Edwin Hauser is the current owner of F. Blumer & Cie. AG, one of the last of the once 22 Glarus textile manufacturers. Hauser owns old master drawings from the heyday of the Glarus textile industry. Sample and design books can now be viewed in the Glarner Wirtschaftsarchiv in Schwanden and in the Freulerpalast in Näfels.
Today, the Glarner Tüechli is available in 36 colours, and its sale accounts for around one third of Blumer's turnover. It is printed at the last textile printing plant in Mitlödi, where high-quality Swiss brands such as En Soie, Sonnhild Kestler and Le Foulard also let printing.
A "real" Glarner Tüechli costs around 14 Swiss Francs. Edwin Hauser is concerned about the copies that are flooding the Swiss market. "Many tourist shops in Lucerne or Interlaken would rather offer a cheap Tüechli for 6 francs than our original," says the entrepreneur. It seems like an irony of fate that these copies are produced cheaply mainly in Asia. You might think it was a late revenge.
Source: Andrea Bornhauser, Bellevue NZZ, Mode & Beauty, 27.07.2019