Cloth protects against the elements but it also defines gender, age, status and cultural identity. Textiles have always been easier to transport than ceramics and glass and as trade items have had a key role in the transmission of design and technique. They are one of the most extraordinary mediums: practical yet often highly decorative. The Ashmolean has the largest collection of medieval Islamic embroideries and Indian block printed textiles of any public museum worldwide. You can see some on display in the central case. All of the textiles were acquired in Egypt by the Egyptologist, Percy Newberry, who donated the entire collection to the Museum in 1941.

The wall cases display ornate silk embroidered children’s gowns from China and India and the gallery also contains several robes of British explorers and adventurers from the 19th and 20th centuries including Robert Shaw and, displayed in its own case, the Arab robes of T E Lawrence, (Lawrence of Arabia). You can also see some fine examples of highly decorative English needlework from samplers to an unusual 17th-century embroidered box. Don’t miss the charming example of the frog purse at the far end of the central display cabinet.