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Weavers And Weaving - Part 3

Updated on February 11, 2012

In Weavers And Weaving - Part I, and in Weavers And Weaving - Part 2 -- it would be irresponsible to leave out all the wonderful influences on textiles that came from other parts of the world -- all of which are part of the wonderful story about the history of weaving.

In China, for example, the very complicated technique of warp cloth of the Han period (206 B.C. - 220 A.D.) was forgotten after the fall of that dynasty. The T'ang period (618-907 A.D.) used chiefly the twill technique instead.

Satin was invent by the weavers of the Sung dynasty (960-1280). As it proved best suited to bring out the natural gloss of the silk thread. It because quickly the favorite technique for silk-weaving, not only in China but also in Persia and Europe.

In the eighteenth century, wonderful silk fabrics were produced in China for the luxurious courts of the K'ang-hsi and Ch'ien Lung emperors.

Great quantities of Chinese silks were also exported to Europe and colonial America. They might still be seen in London, Paris, of American museums.

Fashion timeline
Fashion timeline | Source

Dress Fashions Of The Late 1700's Usher In New Fabric Designs

In Europe, the last quarter of the sixteenth century saw a fundamental change in dress fashion. The ample skirts of the ladies, the wide coats of the cavaliers, all so well suited for the display of large patterned fabrics, gave way to rather ugly tubular skirts and skimpy tunics.

There called forth a new type of textile design. Small geometric or floral patterns were powdered over the ground and often quite charmingly woven in velvet on satin ground.

For these fabrics, the guilds of dyers created many new colors, which the weavers used freely in often surprising combinations.

This fashion, in both dress and fabric design, lasted well into the seventeenth century.

Fabric timeline
Fabric timeline | Source
Example of 17th Century Fabric Design
Example of 17th Century Fabric Design | Source

Stars, Flowers, Birds And Lions Woven In Wool On A Linen Ground

Silks and velvets were luxury fabrics. For everyday wear, woolens and linens were always widely used, but they were not considered worth keeping. We have very few examples left.

The patterns were often woven in wool on linen ground. Sometimes the fabrics were reversible.

Rosettes and stars, small floral designs with or without birds, rabbits or lions were frequent themes.

The countries north of the Alps contributed one great novelty to the textile art, the weaving of linen damask for tablecloths and napkins.

the early history of linen damask weaving is obscure, but by the latter part of the sixteenth century it was a very profitable industry in the Netherlands, Saxony, and northern France -- soon, also, in Ireland.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the napkins were long and wide like small tablecloths.

Men and women wore big ruffs or wide lace collars, and these had to be protected. The designs, woven with so much care, were chosen mainly from the Old and New Testaments.

Armorial devices and trophies, sometimes accompanied by inscriptions, were woven to the special order of wealthy patrons.

Last to enter the lists of competitors, France developed silk weaving in a truly national style. About the middle of the seventeenth century, she took the lead in all textile arts. Magnificent tapestries were woven at the Gobelin, Beauvais, and Aubusson French factories.

Laces of incredible beauty were made at Alencon and Argentan, France. Even more important were the silk fabrics woven at Lyons, France. This old city had been a center of silk weaving from the fifteenth century.

In 1598, King Henri IV assured freedom of religion to the many Protestant weavers by the Edict of Nantes. When this edict was revoked by Louis XIV, in 1685, thousands of silk weavers left Lyons and migrated to Switzerland, Holland, and especially to England, where they settled in the villages of Spitalfields, close to the eastern wall of London.

They learned quickly to adapt their designs to English taste. All through the eighteenth century they were quite prosperous. English ladies thought it was patriotic to wear silks woven at Spitalfields rather than those imported from France.

Spitalfields silks were exported to America. Many costumes worn by American ladies in colonial days and later show the wide range of design of Spitalfields silks.

In the eighteenth century, Lyons again became the center of silk production, because there the technical skill of the weavers was supported by the beauty of the designs.

The greatest accomplishment of the designers was the introduction of flowers as they grew in the gardens and meadows of France.

For a while the flowers were larger than in nature and sometimes covered the entire surface of the fabric. The colors were magnificent. The dyers created many new shades of wool, tapestries and silk.

Wallpaper on canvas, handpainted, with chinoiserie and rococo ornaments (around 1765)
Wallpaper on canvas, handpainted, with chinoiserie and rococo ornaments (around 1765) | Source

The Tea-Drinking "Empire Of The Flora"

During the reign of Louis XV (1715-1974), flowers remained the chief element of decoration of the silk fabrics. That period has been called "The Empire of Flora."

Besides the native flowers, there were many strange blossoms from all parts of the world growing in the hothouses of the Botanical Gardens.

The literature of botany provided even more inspiration. The designers combined these flowers with ribbons, bands of laces, and even fur. This last was a fashion created especially for the Queen.

Another fashion of the middle of the eighteenth century, was that of Chinoiserie, motifs taken from Chinese art and combined with the seashell curves of the rococo style. Chinoiserie was not limited to textile art.

Drinking tea "in the Chinese manner" became almost an obsession. The silversmiths created special teapots. Teacups came from the ceramic centers of England and Germany. Even new types of furniture were created, suggested by the lacquer boxes that contained the precious tea leaves. However, the finest of all were the silk brocades and damasks woven in Venice, Turin, and Lyons.

Philippe de Lassale

The greatest of all the silk artists of Lyons, France was Philippe de Lassale (1723-1803). For twenty years, he designed wonderful brocades for Louis XV, Louis XVI, and Marie Antoinette, along with ones for Catherine the Great of Russia.

Then, the French Revolution brought him to absolute ruin. Lassale could not adjust his art to the changes in taste, and for the last ten years of his life he lived miserably, working in a garret on improvements of the loom.

He was euqlly skilled as a designer and as a weaver. He did not like the gleam of metal thread and used only silks and chenille thread. He began with purely floral designs, -- garlands, bouquets and festoons of flowers -- later he added groups of musical instruments, birds, and animals and pastoral scenes.

In the years before the outbreak of the French Revolution, the dress silks in fashion had been most patterned with stripes and small, scattered flowers.

The discovery of the buried Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum led to the creation of new textile designs, in a classical style.

These were woven in a a special technique, called "lampas." They look like damasks of two colors, but they are not reversible. The design was woven in twill of ivory tones on a brilliantly colored satin ground. These neoclassic designs survived the revolution because they appealed to the taste of the new government.

Jacquard loom on display at the Manchester museum of science and industry
Jacquard loom on display at the Manchester museum of science and industry | Source

A Modern Industry Begins With Jaquard's Power-Driven Loom

Napoleon I (reigning 1804-1815) promoted the silk industry of Lyons as a source of national wealth. However, not it was changed from a craft to an industry. In 1801, Joseph Marie Jacquard (1752-1834) demonstrated his improved loom at an exhibition in Paris, and soon huge quantities of lightweight, prettily patterned silk fabrics were produced on fully mechanized and power-driven Jacquard looms.

However, there remained hundreds of weavers who were too old to learn the new ways of working at the power looms. It became the task of the great merchant-manufacturers of Lyons to devise ways and means of finding work for these weavers.

Luckily, the merchants were supported by excellent designers. And so, all through the first half of the nineteenth century, very fine weaving was continued on the hand looms, though on an ever more reduced scale. It was thought that it would come to a natural end when the last of these old weavers had laid down there tool -- yet today, weavers still weave on hand looms all over the world. To a certain degree is is a lost art in terms of a modern world that is rapidly changing.

Joseph Marie Jacquard
Joseph Marie Jacquard | Source


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