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  1. #1
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    Default The history of curtains, fabric and weaving in Britain

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    As promised, here is a brief Historical Introduction
    to Curtains, Fabric and Weaving in Britain


    If we are to determine any form of classicism in the style and making of curtains we must first look at their origins. The necessity for warmth and privacy, the fabric industry, building and architecture, art and interior design were major considerations in their development.

    The use of textiles in the production of soft furnishings and curtains has been a feature in the palaces of the western world since the beginning of the second millennium and possibly much earlier. Prior to the Stuart period, however, little of interest was ever recorded in Britain about curtains apart from by those playwrights who depicted everyday life through those earlier times. Shakespeare mentioned much about curtains in his plays during the late 16th century but his descriptions generally refer to curtains over doors, around beds and hanging along walls. Whilst textiles, artistically draped or hung around windows, remained mainly in the palaces and stately homes of Royalty and Nobility, curtains hanging from testers or four-poster beds were a substantial feature in the homes of the Elizabethan and Jacobean ruling classes as were room dividers, made from course wollen fabrics, hung from iron rails fixed around or across rooms, attached to beams or between columns. These early curtains served the practical purpose of insulation and went some way to providing privacy.

    So let's start in 1660, the people of England have revolted against Puritanism, Cromwell is dead and the monarchy has been restored. Charles 2nd is on the throne. Most of the early curtain making can be marked from this time. It is said that the first house in England to be completely curtained was Ham House in Richmond by Elisabeth Murray the daughter of William Murray who was given the lease on Ham House by his boyhood school friend Charles the 1st in 1626.
    Elizabeth was able to steer Ham through Cromwell's rule by establishing good relations with the Protector. All the while she sent secret Royalist messages to the prince in exile in France.

    In 1660 when Charles 2nd reclaimed the English throne Ham once again became a place for entertaining and extravagance. Elisabeth adored all things beautiful and filled Ham House with exotic furnishings and curtained every window.


    The exterior of Ham House, said to be the first house in England to be fully curtained


    Between the late 1600s and the early 1700s the standard of living accommodation for the people of England rose to a point where most homes contained doors, glazed windows and chimneys. These changes in basic living standards were being fuelled by advancements in commerce, trade and transport as the seeds of the first Industrial Revolution were sewn.

    Curtains at windows were not recorded as being any kind of feature in the homes of commoners until late into the 17th century. The first parted window curtain was recorded in the 1660s and there are records of thieves stealing curtains from houses in London in 1700, the thieves throwing grappling hooks through the windows to the recover the fabric.

    It might have been said that window curtains in the late17th century provided some insulation value but the true nature of window treatments, in the homes of those who were rich enough to purchase the fabric to make them, would have been to impress others. In the homes or the poorest, windows were still covered at night with hessian soaked in linseed oil whilst the windows of the modestly wealthy were equipped with wooden shutters to keep out the cold and to prevent undesired access. The possessions of curtains and fine soft furnishings, it would seem, would serve simply to demonstrate the wealth and opulence of the filthy rich.

    At the beginning of the 18th century the design and styling of curtains and window treatments which appeared at the windows of expensive London town houses and in the homes of wealthy entrepreneurs across the nation was in its infancy. The only designs which were available to copy were shut away in British and European palaces and the stately homes of senior courtiers. Few had access to view these designs and little remains of any such sketches which might have been made at the time in an effort to create or replicate them.

    The manufacture of curtains was a relatively new concept for commoners in the 18th century so there were few skilled artisans available to replicate earlier designs. The creation of window treatments and general soft furnishings in these wealthy households fell to the womenfolk. As a direct result of this one of the longest standing cottage industries in the land came about, that of the home curtain maker. I have often described the sitting room carpet curtain maker as a relic of the past and said that I believe there to be no place in the professional world of soft furnishings for cutting out fabric on the sitting room carpet and sewing curtains on the dining room table but, irrespective of my view, these home curtain makers have been around for a period approaching four hundred years and I sense they will be around for a very long time to come.

    Georgian women were discouraged from written documentary work in most forms. They were denied education outside the most basic levels of literacy and numeracy and were confined to looking after matters of the household. As a consequence of this, little exists in the form of sketches, patterns or instructions to suggest how the designs of Georgian window treatments were developed.

    By 1700 the centre of the silk weaving industry in Britain had been established at Spitalfields in London and would remain so throughout the century. The British silk industry prospered because it benefited from legislation which protected the British textile industry by restricting textile imports but by the 1820s embargoes on imports were repealed and the silk industry in England collapsed. Spitalfields evolved into a centre for furniture and boot making then later, tailoring. The 13,000 silk weavers who for more than a hundred years had created some of the most stunning silk work in the world gradually became absorbed into the new mechanised textile world of the industrial revolution.




    Mans Silk Waistcoat made from Bizare Silk


    Around the turn of the 19th century a number of major advancements in textile production were being made. The convergence of these technologies would, over a period of 30 years, change the textile manufacturing industry in Britain forever.

    In 1785 Edmund Cartwright invented the first power loom. (see below)



    In 1789 Samuel Crompton patented the spinning mule
    (see below)





    In 1783 James Watt fully developed the steam engine
    (see below)



    In 1801 Joseph Marie Jacquard invented a system to programme Looms.




    Left - Jacquard loom on display at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester
    and Right - a view of the 8 26 hole punch cards one card per pick (weft)


    Irrespective of how these technologies had developed, been adapted or were improved upon over the forthcoming years the stark reality was the improvement in weaving time from a share weaver producing just 1 meter of Damask fabric a week compared to a power loom producing 300m a week in 1820. By 1833 there were 100,000 power looms in England being programmed by Jacquard heads.





    Last edited by Classical Genesis; 26-05-2017 at 01:33 PM.
    Learning together for profit or pleasure
    I could be unhappy with my life but someone keeps sending me spring

    Blog https://classicalgenesis.wordpress.com


  2. #2
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    Very interesting. My ancestors were Huguenot silk weavers. My great great uncle George Dore wove the velvet and silk coronation robes for King Edward VII. My dad said there used to be a portrait of him in Bethnal Green Museum but I've never seen it myself, when I went there it had been taken down for cleaning.

  3. #3
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    That's fascinating Claire. It is clear from what you have said that not all the Huguenot silk workers deserted Spitalfields in the 1800s when the trade embargo was lifted and that some, if not many, remained to continue trading. My wife is from a Huguenot family but not into silk, more's the pity. Maybe this is a picture of the very robes your great uncle George wove. ~ Clive

    ........ Coronation portrait of King Edward Vll by Sir Luke Fildes
    Last edited by Classical Genesis; 26-05-2017 at 01:31 PM.
    Learning together for profit or pleasure
    I could be unhappy with my life but someone keeps sending me spring

    Blog https://classicalgenesis.wordpress.com


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