Cartographic Couture

Cartographic Couture

A silk gown made from maps? Maps of French Indochina on display in a Dutch museum? What’s going on here?


9 - 12+


Arts and Music, Geography, Social Studies, World History

This silk gown was created with maps made by the Royal Air Force. The maps, printed on both sides, depict parts of Burma, French Indochina (now Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos), Siam (now Thailand), India, and China. The dress was made to celebrate the liberation of the Netherlands on May 5, 1945. The Netherlands had been occupied by the German Reich (Nazi Germany) since May 1940, and full liberation came only when German forces surrendered. The dress is a costume, not something a woman would wear every day. Today, the gown is displayed at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Fast Fact

  • The Netherlands was not fully liberated until German forces surrendered, although some eastern regions were liberated months earlier when Allied (Canadian) forces entered the country by crossing the Rhine River.

Fast Fact

  • Of the four regions depicted by the maps on this dress, only one—China—is still a nation today. Burma, today also called Myanmar, gained its independence from Great Britain in 1948. Laos (French Indochina) gained independence from France in 1953. Cambodia (part of French Indochina and separate protectorate) gained independence from France in 1953. Vietnam (French Indochina) gained independence from France in 1954. The Kingdom of Siam became the constitutional monarchy of Thailand in 1932, although many western governments did not recognize this until Japanese forces that occupied the region surrendered in 1945. India gained its independence from Great Britain in 1947.

Fast Fact

  • Cartographers experimented with different types of ink for silk maps. Ink itself was watery, and ran or blurred when printed on silk. Ultimately, the ink that rendered maps with such topographic accuracy incorporated pectin—a durable carbohydrate found in plants and often used as a thickening agent in jellies and jams.
Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

National Geographic Society
Sean P. O'Connor, BioBlitz Education Consultant
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

May 20, 2022

For information on user permissions, please read our Terms of Service. If you have questions about licensing content on this page, please contact for more information and to obtain a license. If you have questions about how to cite anything on our website in your project or classroom presentation, please contact your teacher. She or he will best know the preferred format. When you reach out to him or her, you will need the page title, URL, and the date you accessed the resource.


If a media asset is downloadable, a download button appears in the corner of the media viewer. If no button appears, you cannot download or save the media.


Text on this page is printable and can be used according to our Terms of Service.


Any interactives on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. You cannot download interactives.

Related Resources