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Spitalfields Silk Weavers

Pink Lemonade Silk Taffeta

In the early 18th century, England, like the rest of Europe, received their silks as imported fabrics from Italy and France.  Now, anyone who knows anything about European history, can see why this might be a problem for England.

England had not had the easiest of relationships with Italy ever since Henry VIII kicked the pope to the curb because he was hot to trot for then girlfriend Anne Boleyn,   I mean, the pope lives in Rome.  Actually, in Vatican City.  But Vatican City is located in Rome.  In Italy. Because the Pope is Catholic, he had some very strong opinions on England’s defection from the Church. Henry responded by setting himself and all heirs (well…MOST heirs) as the head of the Church in England.  So yeah, Italy/Rome was no longer getting revenues from the churches in England.  Because now the head of the royal house was getting those revenues.  One can only imagine that having no option but to buy this supreme luxury item from Italy really galled.  Except they did have an option….France.

Yeah…. England’s rocky history with France goes back even further.  Henry’s dispute with Rome was in 1532.  England’s dispute with France went back to another Henry…. Henry II.  Probably even further to William the Conqueror who came over in 1066, but I’m not looking to tell ALL of England’s history.  Henry II married Eleanor of Aquitaine.  Henry II already had a strong claim to most of France, having been Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou, those two sections of which comprised HUGE parts of France.

Then in 1152 he married Eleanor of Aquitaine, an heiress who controlled almost 1/3 of France.  With this marriage, Henry II became Duke of Aquitaine and now controlled 2/3 of France.  In addition to being in bloody line for the throne of England (for a REALLY ROUGH history on this, watch Pillars of the Earth which Starz produced.  Interesting story set against this time frame in history).  And indeed, Henry II did become King of England.  But, really, one cannot be King of England while bending a knee to France.  This led to centuries of dispute with France, wherein for long periods whoever sat on the throne of England, also claimed sovereignty over France.  AWKWARD!

So this brief, rough outline, of silk in England, led eventually to the Spitalfields Silk Weavers industry.  In the early 18th century, as Catholic France proceeded in its persecution of Huguenots, many of those persecuted sought sanctuary in Protestant England.  Many of those so persecuted, were master level silk weavers from the silk industry in Lyons, France.  Seeing as how silks were their business and this is what they knew how to do, England suddenly had the makings of their own silk industry.  In an effort to protect this burgeoning industry, England placed a moratorium on imported Lyonnaise silks.

While the silk fields of Spitalfields have been silent for a while, England, bless their little hoarding, history loving hearts, still has many many images and samples of Spitalfields silks.  Which are kept at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  Who will license those images. For a small fee, of course. So now, I have two silks, the artwork and design of which originated in Spitalfields, with master silk weaver Anna Marie Garthwaite.

Now, I love love love these silks. One is a light weight, 16MM Silk Satin, which has been screen printed.  The other is a 19MM Silk Taffeta, which has also been screen printed. This is both accurate, and not, from a historical perspective. It IS accurate, in that they absolutely, without question, had and used painted fabric for dresses and garments in the 18th century. And silk screening is the 21st century version of hand painting. Bit faster, but the results are similar.

What is NOT accurate is that these two designs were originally brocaded silk. The decision to go with silk screen versus brocade was purely economic. Damask Raven wants to bring these fabulous silks to life in a cost effective manner.  This is so that you, the Couture Costumier working from your luxe home studio, can create these fashionable garments at a reasonable cost. Brocading the silk increases the weight from light and mid-weight, to heavier weights, which is more and more accurate historically.

It is also more and more expensive. So Damask Raven, in an effort to keep costs within the realm of reasonably priced, used silk screening in the design and manufacture. I would love to offer brocaded Spitalfields Designs.  But for now, that cost is above my mans. So for now, I intend to sew away with what’s on hand. It is truly beautiful and the designs quite easily stand the test of fashionable time.