The Spitalfields Silk 18th - 19th Century Dress
It started in the early 1700s with the Huguenots, French Protestants fleeing persecution in Leon and seeking asylum in London’s East End, in Spitalfields.
They brought with them what they could carry and what they could do. And what they could do was powerful enough to name the streets where it happened. Fashion Street, Silk Street, Loom Court and Shuttle Street, places where brocades, lustrings, velvets, satins, paduasoys, mantuas and ducapes were woven to a standard previously unseen outside of France.
And best of all, the silk. Hand woven with a new technique that made it so glossy and so coveted that a dress made from it, this dress, would be continually altered over 100 years to keep that precious fabric in fashion and in sight.
From its creation in 1770 through to the 1880s, this garment has been stitched, and cut, and taken in, and let out to keep it en vogue. It greets my eyes as a Polonaise Gown with bumptious bustle; its last fandango. Perhaps there was not enough fabric to craft another look. Perhaps, like Dr Who, it can only regenerate a certain number of times.
I think of it as prized within one family, handed down through perhaps five generations, fastened by candlelight over stories of where it was worn, and who fell in love.
“That’s Spitalfields silk,” whispers the eldest child to the youngest.
The dress is part of the Joan Sleigh bequest to North East Lincolnshire Council’s museum service.
UPDATE: Thanks to my good friend @Lizziemouse for alerting me to 4 Princelet Street, a merchant's house in Spitalfields that looks pretty much as it did at the time of the silk weavers. Have a long, lingering look at the weavers' loft here http://www.princelet.co.uk/loc1.html#
Invitation to Comment
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