Cloth Cultures: Future Legacies of Dorothy K. Burnham

An International Conference at the Royal Ontario Museum
November 9–11, 2017

During Canada’s 2017 Sesquicentennial celebrations, the Royal Ontario Museum hosted an international conference to explore the material culture of textiles through the work and legacies of Dorothy K. Burnham (1911-2004), internationally renowned textile scholar and member of the Order of Canada (1985). Burnham was in the vanguard of the generation of early 20th century curators who made textiles and costume a field of valid scholarly research by finding out how and why objects are made in particular ways, what they meant when produced and what they mean to us today.

This international conference examined the contemporary trajectories that stem from Dorothy K. Burnham’s legacies by bringing together an international group of academics, artists and maker communities directly or indirectly influenced by her work. It will be of interest to those working from many scholarly disciplines and practices including anthropology, sociology, history, economics aesthetics, museology, weaving, spinning and fibre art. Together, we explore the current diversity of interdisciplinary methods used to study the technologies, economics, meanings and cultural imbued in global textiles and clothing, and in the process acknowledge and assess Burnham’s many contributions.

Organizing Scientific Committee

  • Alexandra Palmer, Senior Curator, Royal Ontario Museum
  • Sarah Fee, Curator, Royal Ontario Museum
  • Adrienne Hood, Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Toronto
  • Trudy Nicks, Senior Curator Emeritus, Royal Ontario Museum


  • Keep Me Warm: Hand-woven Canadian Textiles with Dr. Adrienne Hood
  • Cut my Cote: Dorothy K. Burnham's collecting and research methodologies with John Vollmer
  • 2017 Veronika Gervers Lecture: Fashioning Things with Burnham: An Exploration with Dr. Timo Rissanen


  • Cloth Cultures: Future Legacies of Dorothy K. Burnham

Download full conference schedule

Program Partner
University of Toronto Art Department

Generously Supported By
The Social Science & Humanities Research Council of Canada
Veronika Gervers Research Fellowship


Black and white photo of Dorothy Burnham at a drafting tableDOROTHY K. BURNHAM

November 6, 1911 – October 24, 2004

Dorothy Kate Burnham began her long career as a second assistant draftsman at the Royal Ontario Museum in 1929 when she was just 17 years old. She was appointed the first curator of textiles in 1939 and retired in 1977. Her work in Canadian hand-weaving led to the development of ground-breaking research and an outstanding documented collection. The exhibition Keep Me Warm One Night, (1972), and the book co-authored with her husband, Harold B. Burnham, won international recognition. The brilliant exhibition and publication, Cut my Cote (1973) linked clothing cultures across time and geography and was on the museum’s best- sellers internationally. In 1977, after her retirement from the ROM, Burnham continued to work into her nineties on special research projects for the National Gallery of Canada, the Provincial Museum of Alberta and the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

Book cover of Cut My Cote by Dorothy K. Burnham.

Her publications include:

  • Fascinating challenges: studying material culture with Dorothy Burnham, eds. Thompson, Hall and Tepper in collaboration with Dorothy K Burnham (2001)
  • To please the caribou: painted caribou-skin coats worn by the Naskapi, Montagnais, and Cree hunters of the Quebec-Labrador Peninsula (1992)  
  • Unlike the lilies: Doukhobor textile traditions in Canada (1986)
  • Warp & weft: a dictionary of textile terms (1981)
  • The comfortable arts: traditional spinning and weaving in Canada (1981)
  • L'art des étoffe : le filage et le tissage traditionnels au Canada (1981)
  • Warp and weft: a dictionary of textile terms (1980)
  • Looms and their products: 1977 proceedings Irene Emery Roundtable (1979)
  • Pieced quilts of Ontario (1975)
  • Cut my cote (1973)
  • Skær en skjorte—klip en kjortel : med stoffets bredde som udgangspunkt [Cut my cote. Danish.]
  • Skjortor, särkar och blusar [Cut my cote. Swedish]
  • Coptic knitting: an ancient technique (1972)
  • Keep me warm one night: an exhibition (1972)
  • Keep me warm one night: early handweaving in Eastern Canada (1972)
  • Costumes for Canada's birthday: the styles of 1867 (1966)
  • Fibres, spindles and spinning wheels (1950)

Recent Publications


Authored by: Kait Sykes

Authored by: Kait Sykes