CraftNet (Part 3)

>>> This is the final part of the CraftNet posts, if you’ve been following them, thanks I hope you’ve found them an interesting read : ) The last talk was by Richard Humphries who was from the Humphries Weaving Company Ltd in Sudbury, Suffolk, England. His talk was about the history and tradition of silk weaving in the south east of England and how their company has managed to survive the competition from Asian manufacturers to develop and increase their business today within the luxury and contemporary fashion and interior worlds.

>>> The story starts in France, in Lyon where silk weaving was being done by a group of French people called Huguenot’s. All of the silk was at that time imported to England, where our Norwich weavers were only able to produce woollen cloths as we had not yet discovered the secrets of silk production.>>> In the late 17th Century the Catholic French King Louis IX revoked the Edict of Nantes which had granted Protestants the right to worship in specified areas. The Huguenots were Protestants and being so faced severe persecution, many had no other choice than to flee from France. In 1681 Charles II of England offered the Huguenots sanctuary in England and it is estimated between 40,000 to 50,000 Huguenots sought refuge in England.

>>> Many of them settled in Spitalfields, London where they had a huge impact on the area and the economy. The Huguenots brought with them all of their skills and knowledge of silk weaving and Spitalfields soon became known as ‘Weaver Town’. They produced beautiful silk damasks and jacquard designs which became a thriving industry for the area.

James Leman, Silk Design 1711 Watercolour on Paper
Anna Maria Garthwaite,1742 Silk brocade The Fashion Museum, Bath











>>> Early wallpapers imitated Jacquard silk damasks and the width of the design was set at ‘3 spans of a mans hand’, it’s still of a similar width for todays wallpaper. However all the sucess of the Huguenot’s silk weaving was beginning to upset the English weavers and in the south east of the country the Norwich weavers could not compete. They tried to imitate the silk woven in Spitalfields by glazing their wool cloth and then invented the broad loom which could weave 4 spans of a mans hand wide, enabling them to produce much bigger designs.

>>> In the early 19th century some of the Huguenot weavers moved out of London to avoid taxation imposed on the London weavers by the various Spitalfields Acts of parliament. They relocated to towns such as Braintree, Halstead and Sudbury on the Essex and Suffolk border and is where Richard Humphries silk weaving business now stands.

>>> Richard started an apprenticeship in 1966 at Warners in Braintree when he was 15 years old. Warners was the leading silk weaving company in Britain at that time. The company believed that synthetic fibres would soon replace silk they only had 3 handweavers in the company, for 85 handlooms. Five years later the entire weaving department closed down altogether, threatening the future of 300 years of silk weaving tradition in Britain. RIchard seeing an opportunity to try and save some of the handlooms and weaving machinery, he raised finance to buy some of the handlooms, jacquard cards and jacquard card punching machine to create new designs. He set up a small business in premises in Sudbury where he created custom window blinds and interior fabrics.

>>> Over the following years Richard moved his business back to Essex and for a time was relocated in the newly restored Warner Mills in Braintree, operating from his old employers premises. This enabled him to expand the business and modernising the manufacture of the silk fabrics utilising modern looms. He returned to Sudbury in 2004 to Sudbury SIlk Mills where they are today. He has worked with a wide range of clients from Marian Stroud (1960’s – 70’s) on the Festival of Britain designs, fashion designers such as Matthew Williamson and Alexander McQueen and an infinite number of projects for stately homes, hotels, film productions, transportation and ceremonials. They offer a bespoke service which is what is giving them the edge in todays tough textile industry and the quality and heritage of their designs and fabrics hold them in good stead for the future.

>>> Below is a few photos showing the beautiful silk fabrics they make and if you are interested in finding out more please visit their website



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