Fashion,  ThreadTalk

Anna Maria Garthwaite & Spitalfields Silk

1 – It’s time for #threadtalk! Today’s topic, the Grand Dame of Damask: Anna Maria Garthwaite.

This silk icon has quite a tale, but so does her stomping ground of Spitalfields, London.

And beyond the frippery? The horrors of 18thC England: persecution, riots & taxes🕍🔪💷

2 – Anna Maria was born in 1688 in Lincolnshire, to Rev. Ephraim Garthwaite & Rejoyce (rad name). The family was well to do & Anna Maria would have had a basic education. She showed early artistic prowess, like in this 1707 cut-paper work of a village w/remarkable detail.

This cut-paper work picture shows a country house of around 1700 surrounded by gardens, with gardeners clipping trees. Huntsmen are shown chasing deer in a wooded park and in the upper right corner is a village with houses clustered around a parish church.

3 – I mean, look at the incredible detail on this. Each and every tree has a different shape & leaf pattern, far beyond basic representation. The little horse and rider, the delicate horns on the deer. Painstaking work here that foreshadows the skill of an artist, to be certain.

4 – Besides the above work (made at 17) We know little of Anna Maria until she moves to Spitalfields at 40.

As a spinster. Unmarried and uninterested, Anna Maria sets to work as a silk designer with no known training, establishing herself in a field dominated by men. Unheard of.

Anna Maria Garthwaite's home in Spitalfields, what is now 2 Princelet street. A three story brick home with large chimneys. It has eight windows on the top two stories, and a door and three windows on the first. It is a corner. Image via:

5 – Working primarily in watercolor, her designs helped establish the “English” style of Rococo. Unlike denser French florals, her works drew a bit more on nature & plainer backgrounds (though certainly still with a heavy influence from the East). Below, V&A, watercolor, 1739.

Design for a woven silk by Anna Maria Garthwaite, series 5974 French Patterns, Spitalfields, London, c.1739 - green, blue, mauve, and gold florals, reminiscent of some chintz patterns, but with an organic design.
Via V&A

6 – Anna Maria’s watercolors, which the V&A has dozens, are beautifully mathematic. Though not a weaver herself, she would work closely with silk weavers to achieve the right effect.

This pattern here, for example, gives you an idea of what a design drawn out might look like.

From the V&A: Squared up in ink for cords and dezines and cords numbered. Design for a woven silk by Anna Maria Garthwaite, Spitalfields, 1730 - 1740. - Damask in peach, grey, and cream. Floral figures.

7 – Anna Maria was astoundingly prolific, producing over 80 patterns a year. The classic “S” shape of the period is often seen in her work & her silks were wildly popular.
But why silk, and why Spitalfields? That question takes us back before Anna Maria. And to France.

Meandering floral vines design attributed to Garthwaite, ca 1740. - Classic "S" floral vines from Garthwaite, with a damask background, on pale creme. Very lifelike flowers. Public Domain.

8 – England was not a silk-producing country, in spite of their best efforts. So wool remained THE industry.
Plus, there were laws. Because wool was *patriotic* (read: profitable). All servants had to wear wool, and even the dead did, as per Acts passed (1621, 1666, onward)

"No corpse of any person (except those who shall die of the plague) shall be buried in any shift, sheet, or shroud, or anything whatsoever made or  mingled with flax, hemp, silk, hair, gold, or silver, or in any stuff, or thing, other than what is made of sheep’s wool only...for the encouragement of the woollen manufactures of the Kingdom."

9 – But this dyed-in-the-wool stubbornness caused issues, because silk is gorgeous & rich people love it. France was raking in the $$$.
Turns out religious persecution can be profitable, though, am I right?
Enter the Huguenots (feat: Millais’ super romanticized painting below)

A Huguenot, on St. Bartholomew's Day, Refusing to Shield Himself from Danger by Wearing the Roman Catholic Badge - by John Everett Millais. Two figures, a young woman in the arms of a young man, who is looking down tenderly upon him. Both dressed in period attire, very romanticized.

10 – The French Kings did not like their Protestants (Huguenots). By “did not like” I mean “massacred & persecuted relentlessly”. When good ol’ Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685, it destroyed Protestant churches, schools & protections. Huguenots had nowhere to go.

The St. Bartholomew's Day massacre [Hogenberg, Franz; artist.] An early image of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. Engraving, 10 3/4 x 14 inches; disbound, minor edge wear; contemporary printed caption mounted above image. Np, circa 1572 - public domain

11 – So Huguenot families did what refugees still do today: they risked it all & left. Some found their way to Quebec (my ancestors in Arcadia!); others Some families smuggled themselves along wine casks on ships to London, with only their skills.

Silk-weaving chief among them.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London - This is an example of a woman's formal day ensemble in Britain in the late 1730s. Elbow-length sleeves with a deep pleated cuff characterised the mantua, or gown, during this decade. Looped-up and draped bodice skirts and a pinned-up train are typical features of a mantua. The silk design represents an early example of the new patterns of the 1730s, which emphasised the three-dimensional nature of the forms. The dark, rich colours seen here were popular during the early decades of the 18th century.

12 – By 1687 there were over 16K French refugees in London, mostly around Spitalfields. Many of the weavers came from Lyons & Tours, known for their incredible weaving & developed methods for lustering silk (adding shimmer!). A number of prominent designers were also refugees.

©Victoria & Albert Museum, London- Man’s waistcoat with a round neck, curving 2-piece sleeves, curved fronts and skirts reaching to between the top of the knee and mid-thigh. Each front has a pocket and pointed pocket flap. The fronts, back skirts, pocket flaps and cuffs are made of pale yellow silk taffeta with a chequered weave; the sleeves of yellow silk satin and the back pieced with yellow silk satin and yellow silk/linen. The waistcoat and sleeves are lined with linen twill; the skirts with ivory worsted, the linings of the pockets, pocket flaps and cuffs and front facings are ivory silk twill. The fronts are woven-to-shape with silver thread, frisé, strip and silk threads in white, black and shades of green red, pink, blue and purple, in a pattern of large flowers and leaves, along the front edges and hems. There is a seam at the waist of each front, where the woven pattern was cut, possibly to adjust for length. There are 17 worked buttonholes on a strip of the yellow taffeta.

13 – Although some (mostly men) refugees made bank as Masters, working conditions were rough for (many women) weavers. Tenements were clean–essential for silk weaving–but crowded. Three or four families in a house, or small, one or two room cottages with big looms inside.

A man in a tailcoat at a silk loom, by a window for light. The loom is taller than he is, and twice as long. It takes up most of the room altogether.

14 – Londoners seemed generally to accept the Huguenots as hard workers. However.
Mobs still rose up against the French time to time, & often against women in the worst possible ways. Sometimes resulting in death.
(Below: Map of Huguenots in Spitalfields.)

A map of Huguenot families in Spitalfields.

15 – Which brings us back to women. Because the world Anna Maria Garthwaite lived in & influenced was charged, especially regarding women in fashion, & it had everything to do with fabric & privilege.
This is where the story gets really nasty & it starts with calico/chintz.

Towards the end of the 18th century gowns were regularly made of cotton rather than silk. The imaginatively handworked cotton chintzes from India served as inspiration. This dress was worn in Friesland, where chintz was very popular. Even though gowns in this period were often embellished with decorative folding, the folded hexagons on the front of this dress are fairly unique.

16 – As a refresher, chintz (AKA calico) came from India. These fabrics were printed or painted cotton, so they were cheaper than silk, but had VERY similar patterns.
Mostly b/c the silk patterns were appropriated from India in the first place.

17 – By 1719, calicos were disrupting the entire market. They were gorgeous, fashionable & everyone could afford them.

Silk? Not so much. Super labor intensive. Made of cocoons. Wool? Patriotic, maybe. But not ideal for prints. Certainly not light and airy.

So what to do?

More chintz. A printed cotton 'Indienne' robe à la Française, French, 1770s, boldly printed with large scale flowering boughs, in shades of blue, red and brown, edged in ivory silk ribbon; the open robe with ruffled, gathered, curved cuffs, closed-front 'stomacher' inner panels with hook and eye closure, matching ruffled graduated bands to the front skirt closure and petticoat front, pocket slits to each hip, the dress with shot blue-pink silk lining; the matching petticoat of heavy coarse cotton applied to the front and rear lower skirt with Indienne chintz; together with a pair of late 19th century panniers (4) - From

18 – What did the Spitalfields weavers do to combat the issues?

They innovated!

JK. They mobilized a mob of 4,000 and terrorized women wearing calico by throwing ink, aqua fortis (nitric acid) & “other fluids” on them, tearing gowns off womens’ backs.

And kept doing it.

"Some People sitting at their Doors, took up her Riding Hood, and 
seeing her Gown, cry’d out 
Callicoe, Callico; 
Weavers, Weavers. 
Whereupon a great Number came down and tore her Gown off ... 
and abus’d her very much."

Old Bailey Records, 1719

19 – “The Calico Riots” went on & women across all social lines were the targets.

This lead to retaliation, but instead of opting for team calico, Parliament went for team silk.

In SUPER NOT SURPRISING NEWS the fabric of the gentry got protected & calico got banned.

 Open robe of Spitalfields silk w/ fitted back construction a l'Anglaise, CF hook & eye closure edged w/ passementerie & silk flowers to pleated décolleté, elbows, double engageante sleeves & to CF skirt opening, petticoat front w/ deep double draped & peated furbelows w/ gathered & pleated band to upper edge, entirely constructed of Spitalfields silk brocaded broché, point de rentrée, twill design on tabby ground, c. 1736, textile dimensions: WD 19.75, length of repeat 23", selvage Wd 0.25", (CF bodice altered in the 19th C, 2.5"repair/shattering at left W, petticoat: few tiny-0.25" worn spots throughout, modern W band, 5.5" split above furbelow, 3.5" & 2.5" splits above hem) -  SPITALFIELDS SILK OPEN ROBE & PETTICOAT, COLONIAL, 1750-1760  - Augusta Auctions

20 – Guilds were involved, of course, & many guilds were hardly more than organized crime. The politics involved are complex. But terrible.

Of course, it didn’t stop women from wearing chintz. And people still smuggled it (and died for it).

Fabric history, y’all. It’s a trip.

A perfect example of the robe à la française at mid-century, this hand-painted silk dress displays the opulence, Orientalism, and insatiable baroque excess of the time. Layers build on layers; flowers terrace out from the two-dimensional on the textile, to silk flowers, to nets laden with trapped flowers and floss. The silhouette is perfectly of the era: panniers dilate the hips; a narrow waist is achieved by the corset, which further pushes up and supports the bust. A deep décolletage is rendered more or less modest with insertions of bits of cloth, and the sleeves are finished with layers of engageants that are generally just basted in for easy detachment and washing and are thereby useful in keeping the valued dress clean. - via the Met

21 – This is not to detract from Anna Maria Garthwaite’s impressive contribution. A self-made woman, a spinster, a homeowner, an autodidact, she took risks to be visible, to make a living; she was an outsider in a way, too. But she chose silk.

(pictured, not her, but her damask)

Mrs Charles Willing of Philadelphia was painted by Robert Feke in 1746 wearing a gown of English silk damask woven to a surviving 1743 design by Anna Maria Garthwaite. A woman standing at 3/4 length in a beige damask gown with a big bow and cap.

22 – But just like any gown of the period, all of this has layers. Cloth is capital. Laws, taxes, Kings, religion–all of it moves the dial.
And when women take charge & are visible, things happen. Anna Maria chose spinsterhood & art. Pro-calico women chose fashion over safety.

(c)Victoria and Albert Museum, London - This fabric is a brocaded silk and was intended for ladies' gowns. The technique of brocading allowed different colours or types of thread to be introduced into the pattern of a fabric in specific, sometimes very small areas. This was of particular importance in silks woven with metal thread, like this, where the gold or silver was too precious to waste on the back of the fabric where it would not be seen.

23 – Let’s look at some gowns, shall we?

First, a Spitalfields robe à la française. Silk extended tabby (gros de Tours) with liseré self-patterning and brocading in silver lamella and filé. From ROM collections ,1750.

I can’t with this one. Literally can’t. Yellowgasm. Lord.

24 – Spitalfields. This one looks so calico it hurts. Like, take this silk but make it LOOK COTTON. Altered, like many you’ll see. I’m a sucker for roses.

Pink gros de tours silk with flush effect, ivory flowers, Spitalfields, 1740s; fancy dress additions 1950s, via the V&A.

25 – This is a Garthwaite gown, but I wish someone would turn off the flash over at the V&A.

Their note: 1744 (designed), 1744-1745 (weaving), 1745-1750 (sewing), 1760s (altered), 1870-1910 (altered) – again, these prized silks get altered & nipped & tucked! Love the colors.

©Victoria & Albert Museum, London - Woman’s gown of ivory silk satin figured in a floral design and brocaded with coloured silks in a pattern of large flowers and leaves. The gown is front opening, the bodice lined with linen. It has a fitted back and elbow-length sleeves with double, scalloped ruffles. The skirts are made of 6 lengths of silk, gathered into a waist seam.

The gown was probably first made 1745-50 and then altered in the 1760s to update the style and possibly for another wearer. The hem was taken up, the robings altered and the top sleeve ruffles converted to cuffs and white silk fringe added. The gown was later altered in the late 19th century for fancy dress. The side seams of the bodice were taken in and the waist seam reconfigured. Ties were added on the inside skirts to create a polonaise/bustle effect and the sleeve ruffles and front skirt panels lined with ivory silk sarsenet.

26 – My personal favorites from Garthwaite are her monochrome damasks, like this ladies banyan. Not only is it rare to see one from this period, the green is just incredible. Woven 1740, made a decade later.

You can see the Japanese influence here. Would wear.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London - 
Woman’s banyan of green silk damask in a large pattern of leaves and flowers, lined with dark green silk sarsenet. The banyan is extensively pieced with no complete repeat of the damask pattern. It is T-shaped in cut, open at the front, with sleeves reaching to the forearm with a turn-back cuff. There is 1 pleat on either side of the front and 1 tapered box pleat at the centre back.

The piecing and signs of fomer folds and pleats suggest a previous garment. It was possibly then pieced into a man’s T-shaped night gown and reconfigured again for a woman with shaping at the torso and shoulders and addition of a linen lining above the waist.

27 – Here’s a trip: 1752 (designed), 1752 (weaving), 1755 – 1775 (sewing), 1895 – 1900 (reconstructed)

Figured silk, probably once a sack dress, originally a Garthwaite dress. Reconstructed in the late 19th century! Talk about a lifetime. I’d recognize that design anywhere.

A woman's fancy dress of white figured silk, brocaded with floral motifs in coloured silks . The design of the silk shows isolated brocaded sprigs set against a tabby ground, elaborately patterned with a self-coloured flushing weft. The colours are reds and blues with emerald green leaves.

The garment was once a sack, probably made between 1755 and 1775. It was unpicked at some point and reconstructed for fancy dress. It is made of 4 widths of silk; some of the original 18c piecing remains, but the seams have all been resewn by machine. The bodice was resewn to a late 1890s pleated white cotton bodice. The sleeves are squares of silk sewn to long, gathered cotton muslin sleeves. © Victoria and Albert Museum

28 – This is another Natania Dreamy Dress. Can’t say for sure if it’s Spitalfields, but it is British. I can’t get enough of the design on this one, because it feels so modern and whimsical. From 1770-75. The metallic thread (gold!) is all so shiny!

29 – Yet another stunner in simplicity. I love that the pattern makes the dress, showing off Garthwaite’s art.

Made originally as a sack dress, and then altered in the 1780s, it still holds. It’s brocaded satin, so basically I would pay lots of money to be allowed to touch it.

30 – I would also like to discuss these shoes. Because. I mean. ::flailing::

The way the pattern! The color! The heel! c. 1735. I’m pretty sure these are actually imbued with magic.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London - Pair of woman's shoes made of white brocaded silk with a design in shades of blue, pink and green. The upper and heel are covered with the same material. They are bound with white grosgrain ribbon and the uppers are lined with white leather. The inner sole is made of brown leather. The buckles are made of polished steel. There is a white leather lining between the sole and the shoe. The shoes feature a design of large fruit placed over the toes.

31 – Okay, I could go on, but it’s time for sources. This is a big subject, and I literally dug into dissertations for it. So here we go:

Sources –
Anna Maria Garthwaite

32 – Anna Maria Garthwaite (cont’d)


33 – Sources 3



34 – One more, because I love that the story of Spitalfields silk remade. Here’s a gown from 1840, in America, over 100 years after the fabric was made, in the Boston MFA collection.

This is probably my favorite print to date–so Romantic, yet so Rococo. Anachronism in harmony.

American, mid 19th about 1840. Fabric 18th century Spitalfields brocade, blue ground, horizontal interlacing ribbon and floral serpentines, brocaded with white and brilliant polychrome silks, tightly fitted bodice coming to V in center front, hooked down center back, wide flaring neckline, elbow length sleeves with sleeve ruffles shaped like those of the 18th century, full skirt with fullness gathered evenly all around.

35 – Thanks for hanging out with me for tonight’s #threadtalk for a look into the archives of #fashionhistory.

Remember to question beauty relentlessly, and that fashion is choice, expression, and rebellion. Sometimes, all rolled into one.

Originally tweeted by Natania Barron (@NataniaBarron) on September 13, 2021.

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