Monday, July 13, 2015

Spitalfields Silks

I hadn't heard of the Spitalfields until a friend suggested that a group of friends convene in London and rent a home her acquaintances own in the district. Although we all didn't gather and only two of us made it to London and stayed with friend, I was intrigued by an industrial and historic area that's become gentrified and trendy (just like New York).

The proposed/unused holiday house was built in 1724 for a Huguenot Silk Merchant, saved from demolition in the 1970s, and then restored for twentieth century living under the auspices of the Spitalfields Trust. The top floor of the house was originally the weavers loft which housed the loom for making silk, and its current use as a master bedroom echoed the fate of of New York's industrial buildings.

Our quick trip precluded a trip to the Spitalfields neighborhood (next time!), but I learned that Spitalfields was settled by Huguenot silk weavers who fled religious persecution in France in the late 17th century and settled outside the bounds of the City of London. (there was apparently a Huguenot branch of my paternal family, hence my mild fascination with the emigrés.)

And we did get to the Victoria & Albert Museum. Like history and design sleuths, we found a small section devoted to Spitalfields silks. The small butrich display showed a number of and patterns. But more excitingly, it introduced me to a new (non Huguenot) heroine, Anna Maria Garthwaite.

Born in 1690, Anna Maria Garthwaite was a freelance English textile designer who "lived and worked in Spitalfields from about 1730 until her death in 1763. One of the leading pattern designers for the English silk industry, she "produced as many as 80 designs a year for master weavers and mercers textile merchants)." As someone who's still figuring out how to make a decent yet fabulous repeat pattern, I'm in awe. Although she was not herself a weaver, like all designers, Garthwaite had to understand the weaving process in order to make patterns that could be viably manufactured.

I just loved an arresting cut paper piece which Garthwaite made when she was seventeen (a friend tells me it's a famous piece of art in England). And her patterns are exquisite. It's worth checking out the V&A's image bank—especially the details on the seventh screen in.

Top photo of fabric by Anna Maria Garthwaite: V&A Museum, Spitalfields Silks by Moira Thunder. Permission to use image from CD packaged with the book is allowed for non income-producing projects (such as this blog).
Middle photo: furtive photo from Room 52b: dress fabric from a design by Anna Maria Garthwaite, 1742.
Bottom photo: furtive photo number 2 from Room 52b: cut paper by Anna Maria Garthwaite, 1707.

*Material in quotes is from wall text in the V&A display.

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