Monday, November 25, 2013

Dyeing and the Silk Industry During the Late 1800s

This article is an introduction to the next one which will be about Leek Embroidery

Thomas Wardle (1831-1909) of Leek in Staffordshire was an English dye chemist and printer who devoted much of his life to development of the textile printing industry employing both locally woven and imported fabrics. He had widespread interests, considerable energy and solved many problems associated with the dyeing of fabrics making many technological breakthroughs and innovations in the process.

Colour played a defining role in his life. He developed consistency between dye lots, colour fastness and also the variations of shades in colour ranges. His company printed small runs of fabrics using both natural and chemical dyes. He used wood printing blocks and, with over printing, created extra colours.

William Morris was a protégé, business partner and friend. Together they experimented with dyeing and printing using natural dyestuffs. Morris would create a design which was cut into woodblocks and which were used for short run printing. Morris and several other lesser known artists designed for the Arts and Crafts movement which was hugely influential in developing public taste as it moved forward from the tastes of the Victorian era. Prior to this time, the fashion had been for Berlin work where the colours are vibrant but there are few shades within a colour range. A look at the William Morris designs gives you an idea of their complexity, richness, balance and subtlety of colour.

A label reads:

Design Indian Poppy, c 1884-89, based on a woven French silk, Tussur silk cloth hand-woven in India. Block-printed by Wardle & Co, the Hencroft Works, Leek, stitched with Indian tussur silk yarn dyed with natural dyes by T & A Wardle, the Churnet Works. Leek Embroidery Society. (SMDC Collection)

The Wardle Company also dyed textiles for bulk orders such as for the Admiralty. And they dyed hanks of wool for the carpet industry as well as threads for sewing, embroidery and braids. He was the major supplier of printed textiles to Liberty's on Regent Street as well as to Harrods in Kensington. And he had a store under his own name on Bond Street.

Tussur Silk became a huge part of the life of Thomas Wardle. Tussor Silk is the product of a large, wild silk moth native to India. The fibres are long and this length creates the sheen in the fabric and in the embroidery threads. Although it is a durable fibre, it is beige in colour and resistant to being dyed.

He spent many years experimenting with ways of processing the fabric and dyeing it to produce a jewel toned range of colours. This silk fabric became enormously popular and fashionable in England as well as France. The discarded (short) fibres were used to create Sealcloth, another invention. This fabric was water resistant and in high demand to make coats and cloaks.

Late in his life, he travelled to Kashmir (India) where there was a famine and the silk industry was failing. His knowledge and experience brought changes, revitalizing the industry and providing employment for thousands of Indians and lifting them out of poverty for decades to come.

The long silk fibres were made into embroidery threads with a range of shades within a colour. In 1879, Thomas took some of the threads home and gave them to his wife Elizabeth, an embroiderer, challenging her to find a good use for them.

The accompanying photos are examples of Leek Embroidery. The design woven into the fabric was typical for its time. The embroiderer then used the Wardle dyed silk threads to enhance the woven design. Note the lustre of the silk thread and the good condition of the next piece. It is thanks to Joan Landon who had collected and stored it at her home, Sunnycroft (Blog dated September 15, 2013)

References: ISSUU - Who was Thomas Wardle.
Thomas Wardle and Tussur Silk

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Another Beryl Dean Embroidery

Earlier this week, while looking for something else, I found a photo of another of Beryl Dean's panels. They were commissioned by The Friends of St George's Chapel. This Chapel is within the grounds of Windsor Castle.

This one, The Annunciation, is the first in a series of five. The finished size is 9' x 4' 6". It would have required a special working framing as she described in her book.

I managed this time to get the colours a little nearer to their true colours. The halo area as well as the six flowers or flames are all stitched in a Whitework technique. In this, some of the threads from both the warp and the weft are removed. The remaining threads are used as the foundation for weaving in designs. I have never seen this used with colour and gold threads anywhere else. I think that other examples must exist somewhere and I know that you will tell me where they are.

The book is Church Embroidery by Beryl Dean 1982. ISBN 0-264-66842-1

Monday, November 4, 2013

Windsor Castle and St. George's Chapel

I have been on vacation in England and Europe visiting lifelong friends and family. Yes, I had a wonderful time because it is such a treat to see everyone and to spend time in London and the Channel Islands.

My cousin, who had written ahead and made the arrangements, and I visited Windsor specifically to see the Beryl Dean Embroideries. We were expected and were taken through the rope barriers to the case where the embroideries are now stored. The case was then unlocked by a staff member so that we could see all five of the banners. Everyone was most helpful and it made a huge difference that they were expecting us.

I had forgotten how large the panels are, probably around 10 feet high by 5 feet wide. The size makes them difficult to photograph but the guide book features this one: The Adoration of the Magi. A scan and a screen shot of the page in the book is the best reproduction that I am able to provide for you. This photo does not do the panel justice at all.

The background fabric was specially woven and is cream coloured with a silver thread included in the weft. When one has the opportunity to look closely the detail is fascinating and the workmanship incredible. But I would expect no less from such a talented designer and broideress. The closer one looked, the more one saw. All the faces were different in structure and expression and each one had eyes that saw you and returned your gaze. All the different techniques used were astounding.
Interestingly, though there is a lot of detail in the background, it remains in the background leaving the figures to be prominent and draw your attention. I have added an enlargement to give you a little more idea of the intricacy in every square inch of these embroideries. I wish that I could have provided better photos for you but this is the best that I can manage.

Needless to say, if you should happen to be in Windsor, go to St Georges's Chapel within the grounds of Windsor Castle. Write beforehand and tell them your schedule and ask to see the Beryl Dean Embroideries. At the moment, the lighting available near their locked case is poor but I have asked the Chapel to consider installing lighting that can be switched on only when visitors such as us make a request to see the panels. The case and the lack of any direct light will preserve these remarkable pieces for posterity and I hope that they will be enjoyed by many future generations.

Write to:

The Archivist
Archives and Chapter Library,
The Vicar's Hall Undercroft
The Cloisters
Windsor Castle,
Windsor, England

They prefer to receive such requests by mail.

Beryl Dean was such a remarkable and talented lady that I am surprised that no one has yet written her biography. This would be an excellent subject for a University Thesis.