Chinese silk on cardboard
What we needed to know as first are the specifics of the original silk floss that was used in 17th C. English Raised Embroidery which is described in page 99 of the book Twixt Art and Nature as " loosely twist floss, 2 ply thread, with both S-spin and S-ply". This was also a very fine thread.
(Silk threads are made up of more than a single filament twisted or plied together, clockwise for S-twist ,or anti-clockwise for Z-twist )
Also in Jacqui Carey book “Sweetbags” page 53 the silk is described as: "a fine 2-ply thread, with an S-twist" ........"worked in silk floss as it produces a more lustrous appearance when the fibres are laid parallel"
There are also many evidences that the silk used in England in 17th C for Raised Embroidery was imported from Italy, specially from Naples.
A very interesting reference lecture is again in Jacqui Carey's book Sweetbags, page 56, telling that silk was of foreign origin and also imported from Naples.
In the same book there is also a household note of purchases, page 57, where the silk thread for embroidery is described as "Naples Silke".
There is an incredible similitude between Naples Silk and the one still made today in China but I will explain this later in the post.
Knowing this is possible to start to compare the old silk with modern ones.
Actually a possible comparison could be made with the following brands:
- Pipers Silk Floss High Gloss
- Devere 6 fold
- Chinese filament silk from Suzhou region.
Pipers Silk Floss High Gloss is a 90 Denier filament silk thread and is also often used for restoring.
( Denier is a unit of measure for the mass of fibers, 1 Denier = 1gram per 9000 meters of silk)
I have also asked to the Textile and Conservation department at Victoria & Albert Museum and to Mary Brooks (author of many books on Textile and conservation area) about a modern silk thread that could be comparable to the historical one and both suggested me that Pipers Silk Floss High Gloss was the best candidate.
But Pipers silk is not a 2ply thread; have to say that I like this product for the lovely quality, they have also a beautiful range of colours available and suitable for Historical Embroidery .
I often use it specially for long and short stitch. Gives also very good results when used in more than one strand together for tent stitch, brick, burden, French knots and is easy to manipulate as does not catch so much.
You can see more here: http://www.pipers-silks.com/ProductInformation/FlossSilk.htm click on the pink link “View colours”.
Have bought a nice stash of it but I don't think it's THE perfect match with the historical one.
Devere 6 fold is a 120 Denier filament silk thread, very similar to Pipers but a bit thicker. This one too is also often used for restoring and good, used in more than one strand, for the same stitches mentioned for Pipers, also is not very catching.
The range of shades is nice too, having in many “old shades”, some of them suitable for Historical Embroidery.
You can see more here: http://www.devereyarns.co.uk/embroidery-thread---silk-42-c.asp
Like Pipers, wich mixes well with, is a nice thread to use for embroidery because of the lovely quality but again is not a 2 ply thread loosely twisted, so not the perfect match.
Chinese filament silk from Suzhou IS a loosely twist 2 ply S-spin silk thread. It's about 260 Denier and comparing it with photos of the original threads used at the time the two silks looks very similar.
Please ! have a look at Return of Jephthah at Metropolitan Museum, the back of this panel shows very well the silk thread used:
Such a similar silk is still produced today in the traditional manner in the region of Suzhou who is one of the oldest places where silk is made.
Because of its similitude with the old silk I will use this one for my Raised Embroidery panel, the colours are beautiful and there are all the shades needed to match with historical colours, also the price is very affordable.
You can find it from Alice: Orientalcultures .
A real colour card is also available.
Is also possible to look at colours here, easy and very good pictures:
To get it, I suggest you to contact Alice at: firstname.lastname@example.org she will make you a better price if the purchase is not trough Ebay as she will have no fees to pay.
Each colourway of this silk comes in a bundle containing 440 meters. Each bundle is made of smaller skeins each of 20 metres in subtle shades going from light to dark. The quantity of shades is different in each colourway and varies from 6 to 10 depends from the colour but quantity of silk thread is always 440 meters.
Opening the bundle and separate the skeins needs a bit of patience, I suggest you to store the skeins cutted in half and knotted in a holed cardboard to keep them safe and in order like shown in the photo on top page.
This pure filament silk is not very easy to use but will be less difficult if you separate the the 2 ply (each ply 130 Denier) and use them together in the needle or just one, depends from your needs.
Skeins of Filament Chinese Silk
About the silk used in the past for needlelaces is still not clear in my mind how this was, if the same used for all the other stitches manipulated/conditioned in some way or not, also the thickness is still not clear.
In Carey’s book Sweetbag, she says that silk was at least a 600 Denier weight very low or not twisted at all as is possible to see in macro pictures in the same book and from the same author book "Elizabethan stitches".
Some opinions are about that a twisted silk thread was used but looking at macro pictures I cannot recognize a twisted material also if is true that silk looses its twist with time but don't think so much.
Looking at the 17th C. needlelaces in picture you can better understand what I mean.
Then a question came in my mind:" why there is such a similitude between a silk that was produced in Italy in 17th C and exported to England and a silk that is produced in China still today ?"
My conclusion is that probably the traditional Chinese method of making silk spread across time through all the other countries.
The long article that follows will explain you with historical facts what happened in the past and will provide you evidences for my theory.
If you are patient is an interesting lecture :)
HISTORY OF SILK :
"Although silk was well known in Europe and most of Asia, China was able to keep a near monopoly on silk production. The monopoly was defended by an imperial decree, condemning to death anyone attempting to export silkworms or their eggs. Only around the year 300 CE did a Japanese expedition succeed in taking some silkworm eggs and four young Chinese girls, who were forced to teach their captors the art of sericulture. Techniques of sericulture were subsequently introduced to Japan on a larger scale by frequent diplomatic exchanges between the 8th century and 9th centuries.
Starting in the 4th century silk began to reach the West by merchants who would exchange it for gold, ivory, horses or precious stones. Up to the frontiers of the Roman Empire, silk became a monetary standard for estimating the value of different products. Hellenistic Greece appreciated the high quality of the Chinese goods and made efforts to plant mulberry trees and breed silkworms in the Mediterranean basin. Sassanid Persia controlled the trade of silk destined for Europe and Byzantium
The monks sent by Justinian give the silkworms to the emperor:
according to story by Procopius, it was not until 552 CE that the Byzantine emperor Justinian obtained the first silkworm eggs. He had sent two Nestorian monks to Central Asia, and they were able to smuggle silkworm eggs to him hidden in rods of bamboo. While under the monks' care, the eggs hatched, though they did not cocoon before arrival. The Byzantine church was thus able to make fabrics for the emperor, with the intention of developing a large silk industry in the Eastern Roman Empire, using techniques learned from the Sassanids. These gynecia had a legal monopoly on the fabric, but the empire continued to import silk from other major urban centres on the Mediterranean. The magnificence of the Byzantine techniques was not a result of the manufacturing process, but instead of the meticulous attention paid to the execution and decorations. The weaving techniques they used were taken from Egypt. The first diagrams of semple looms appeared in the 5th century.
The Arabs, with their widening conquests, spread sericulture across the shores of the Mediterranean. Included in these were Africa, Spain and Sicily, all of which developed an important silk industry. The mutual interactions among Byzantine and Muslim silk-weaving centers of all levels of quality, with imitations made in Andalusia and Lucca, among other cities, have made the identification and date of rare surviving examples difficult to pinpoint.
While the Chinese lost their monopoly on silk production, they were able re-established themselves as major silk supplier (during the Tang dynasty) and industrialize their production in a large scale (during the Song dynasty).China continued to export high-quality fabric to Europe and the Near East along the silk road.
Much later, following the Crusades, techniques of silk production began to spread across Western Europe. In 1147 while Byzantine emperor Manuel I Komnenos was focusing all his efforts on the Second Crusade, the Norman king Roger II of Sicily attacked Corinth and Thebes, two important centres of Byzantine silk production. They took the crops and silk production infrastructure, and deported all the workers to Palermo, thereby causing the Norman silk industry to flourish. The sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204 brought decline to the city and its silk industry, and many artisans left the city in the early 13th century. Italy developed a large domestic silk industry after 2000 skilled weavers came from Constantinople. Many also chose to settle in Avignon to furnish the popes of Avignon.
The sudden boom of the silk industry in the Italian state of Lucca, starting in the 11th and 12th centuries was due to much Sicilian, Jewish, and Greek settlement, alongside many other immigrants from neighbouring cities in southern Italy.With the loss of many Italian trading posts in the Orient, the import of Chinese styles drastically declined. Gaining momentum, in order to satisfy the rich and powerful bourgeoisie's demands for luxury fabrics, the cities of Lucca, Genoa, Venice and Florence were soon exporting silk to all of Europe. In 1472 there were 84 workshops and at least 7000 craftsmen in Florence alone.
England under Henry IV was also looking to develop a silk industry, but no opportunity arose until the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in the 1680s when hundreds of thousands of French Huguenots, many of which were skilled weavers and experts in sericulture, began immigrating to England to escape religious persecution. Some areas, including Spitalfields saw many high-quality silk workshops spring up, their products distinct from continental silk largely by the colours used.
Nonetheless, the British climate prevented England's domestic silk trade from becoming globally dominant."
Silk in 1590-1630.
"England greatly depended on its foreign immigrants for the transference of knowledge of various
technologies, this project will focus on the transmission of textile technologies, and the creation of jobs for its people. In 1593, a list of trades practiced in the liberties of London and its adjoining parishes shows silk workers to be in the overwhelming majority (out of 1,862individuals 355 were silk workers .
England’s cold, dreary climate made it unsuitable and indeed unable to become a rival in the sericulture competition; yet, by the midseventeenth century, England was able to create a sustainable silk-weaving industry—several regions such as Macclesfield and Spitalfield become major centers for silk weaving—one which helped the country gain the power and wealth it needed to be deemed an “empire” when the Union occurred in 1707 .
The connection between silk and bloodshed can be seen when looking at the migration of silk into Europe. The Crusades brought Europeans into contact with the vast wealth of the civilizations of the Middle East; Europeans used the pretext of recovering the Holy Land as an attempt to gain access to all of this wealth. In the eleventh century, when the Normans invaded Sicily, the gateway between East and West was further opened; however, nearly a hundred years later the Easter Monday uprising forced many Muslim silk weavers to flee Sicily and instead move to Almeria, Spain and Lucca, Italy.
With this forced migration came the rise of new silk capitals. The phrase, “good silk is Lucca silk” shows how prominent and well respected Lucca was in terms of its silk production by the end of the thirteenth century . As stated earlier, the spread of the silk trading industry is marked by violence and religious persecution, and Lucca was not immune to this.
In 1314, pro-imperialist forces caused all papal supporting weavers to flee; most settled in Venice
and Florence. Venice was the European capital of the Silk Road. It had close ties with the Orient (several Venetian-owned silk weaving workshops were located in Byzantium and Syria), and served as a commercial intermediary, receiving goods from the East and then transporting these commodities to Western Europe. Florence, too, by the end of the fourteenth century, attracted artisans from all over the Orient.
Many silk workers that resided in Italy left for France because of chronic political and religious problems. France’s first success in the silk industry occurred during the reign of François I (1515-47) who issued an edict inviting foreign weavers to settle in Lyon. A decade after this edict was issued, François I wanted Lyon to become the silk weaving center and so declared it the sole depository for all silks entering the kingdom .
Henry IV encouraged the development of French sericulture by having more than 60,000 mulberry
seedlings planted in various regions throughout this country. By the time of Louis XIV’s reign, Lyon had become the silk capital of the western world. However, in 1685, France lost a multitude of skilled artisans when Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, causing numerous French Protestants to flee the country, many of whom settled in England. Other immigrants, a number from the Southern Netherlands, had also fled to England to escape religious persecution in the mid-sixteenth century, bringing along with the influx of people a great knowledge concerning the production of silk into England.
From 1560 to 1669, there was a 2,902% increase in the import of silks into England.
During the sixteenth century London received the majority of its goods from Antwerp rather than from their places of origin: “For Londoners, Antwerp and then Amsterdam served as successive gateways to new worlds” . At the beginning of the sixteenth century Antwerp replaced Venice as the center of trade in Europe. As Antwerp-made silks began to become more highly valued in the 1550s, and specialized crafts therefore moved more closely to London, the English began to engage more forcefully in competition with their close neighbor.
England tried to compete by importing highly skilled Italian craftsmen in order to help establish London in the manufacture of broad silk textiles, but both times this venture was attempted it failed . It was not until a decade or two later that a large group of craftsmen forced to migrate to London from the Southern Netherlands that England began to manufacture cheaper silken mixed textiles, which met a distinct local need but could not compete with the fine silks from Italy and Antwerp ."
---Source from "Reading Silk: England's Search for a National identity, 1590-1630"
By Emily Elizabeth Rendek
Florida State University
Around 1630 Naples become one of the most populous town of Europe and the life of most of its 250.000 habitants was around silk manufacturing. The town become at the same level of Florence, Venice and Lucca and the manufacturing of silk was for Naples the most important economical resource until the end of the 16th c. also because the government was strongly supporting the development of the production.
The art of producing and dyeing silk came to Naples from Bizantine and Arabs migrant people.
--Brief extract , translated from:” Napoli, città della seta” (Naples, town of silk)
by Rosalba Ragosta
Hope you have found this interesting…..
No affiliation with any of the silk brands listed in this post.