Art of Silk
This season’s gowns hit a new level of opulence with the launch of two animal scenes on our new sleek micro velvet, one of which features a crocodile chasing a monkey and the other serene leopards perched in trees. Both have quilted silk revers which contrast and accentuate the rich design.
Added to this are the stunning Fluid Paisley jacquards, whose rich mustard, duck egg and burgundy or deep burnt orange, cut with sharp blues in royal and cornflower and the Exotic Floral jacquard in rich autumnal shades on a blue background – all of them heirloom pieces to hand down for generations.
To discover more about our gowns and their origins, please read the following article by our maker…..
Silk yarn is the longest natural filament yarn in the world. Legend has it that the history of silk dates to year 2500BC when Xi Ling-Shi, the wife of the Yellow Emperor, dropped a cocoon from a mulberry tree into her tea cup and it began to unravel into a thousand strands, in the hot liquid. Whether this story is true or not, it is certainly the earliest surviving reference to silk history.
For nearly 3 millennia the Chinese had a global monopoly on silk production. Back then, silk was even considered to be more precious than gold. The trade route, that became known as the Silk Road, took silk westwards and brought gold, silver and wool to the East. The Silk Road was 4000 miles long and stretched from Xi'an to the Mediterranean, passing through Damascus, a major trading market, and from there merchandise was shipped across the Mediterranean Sea.
Realising the value of silk, the Chinese kept their manufacturing secrets safe from the rest of the world for more than thirty centuries and anyone, caught trying to smuggle eggs, cocoons or silk worms out of the country, was executed. So, under the penalty of death the mystery of sericulture remained a well-kept secret for almost 3,000 years.
The Roman Empire also traded in silk. According to the legend, in the year 550BC monks working for the Emperor Justinian smuggled silkworm eggs out of China to Constantinople in hollow walking canes, where the trading of silk became a strict imperial monopoly. In the 7th century, the Arabs conquered Persia, and captured their magnificent silks in the process and as such silk weaving spread. Andalucía in southern Spain, central to these cultural changes, became Europe’s main silk producing centre in the 10th century. By 13th century, Italy had gained dominance and Italian silk became a significant source of trade. Como still maintains that tradition and New & Lingwood work closely with two of the finest silk printers there. Italian silk became so popular that the French monarch, François I, invited Italian silk makers to France to create a silk industry which had its base in Lyon.
By the 17th century France was challenging the European market. At the same time, the French Huguenots, who were subject to religious persecution, fled the country in large numbers. Many were expert weavers and their arrival in the UK largely contributed to the development of the silk industry in the UK. Silk took a hold throughout England and the cities of Derby, Coventry and Macclesfield boasted many silk weaving looms. However, the real silk industry remained centred in Spitalfields, where it was plagued by frequent industrial disputes regarding wages. In the 18th century local magistrates in Spitalfields decided to act and began the first of a series of efforts to regulate the industry deciding to regulate the wages of men and masters. Because of this, the masters began to move the production of silk to areas within travelling distance from London and so silk weaving arrived from London to towns such as Sudbury in Suffolk.
The silk mill where New & Lingwood has most of its silks woven, originated in Spitalfields and made a late move to Sudbury in 1870s. Today, much of its output is produced on computerised looms which has dramatically increased productivity. The traditional methods of preparing and finishing silk remain unchanged but technical advances have naturally improved efficiencies.
Industrialisation saw the downturn in the popularity of silk and as such, the advent of manmade fabrics such as nylon started to usurp the traditional silk strongholds of stockings and parachutes.
After World War II, Japanese silk production was restored and Japan became the biggest producer of raw silk and the only exporter of raw silk until the 70s when China recaptured their position as the world’s biggest producer and exporter of raw silk and silk yarn.
Jacquard machinery, developed at the end of the 19th century, was the mechanical forerunner of the computer and used binary code to weave. Jacquard fabrics became the staple of the UK silk industry. New & Lingwood silk dressing gowns are manufactured from English silk jacquards. These cloths are designed in conjunction with the design team who are based in Sudbury. Peacock dressing gown, featured in the BBC drama “The Night Manager”, has originated from a book of 19th century Russian textiles.
Traditionally New & Lingwood use 300 end silk which produces durable, yet comfortable, heirloom cloth quality. The gowns are all limited editions. Sometimes, it’s a one-off piece and each dressing gown can be made as a bespoke item, in almost any colour. Our dressing gowns are made in Nottingham, where we have an extremely skilled workforce, who have a combined manufacturing expertise of more than 200 years. Cutting is undertaken by shears and large complicated patterns are carefully pattern-matched. Piped and cording, which are woven by 19th century ecclesiastical suppliers, are used to trim the garments. Each item has interfacings and stiffeners inserted which support the silk and give the garment ‘body’. Quilted facings are often undertaken by hand which is an arduous process. The whole cutting and making process spans up to a day per gown and contains a large number of meticulous finishing processes.
Purchasing a dressing gown from New & Lingwood is not just about taking ownership of something that is timeless, exquisite and beautiful, it is about making a contribution to both the making and weaving heritage and their future in the UK.