Dress Fabric

1709
Dress Fabric thumbnail 1
Dress Fabric thumbnail 2
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Not currently on display at the V&A

Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This is the earliest known example of a woven silk designed by James Leman, one of the foremost figures in England’s 18th-century silk industry. It is one of only two Leman silks so far identified from his extant designs, and is in an unparalleled state of preservation.
The silk corresponds to James Leman’s original design drawing for the fabric which is already in the V&A’s collection, E.1861:98-1991, and provides invaluable information about the design and manufacturing processes of Spitalfields silks. Leman’s drawings are the earliest dated silk designs known to exist from any of the great European textile manufacturing centres.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Parts
This object consists of 2 parts.

  • Dress Fabric
  • Dress Fabric
Materials and Techniques
Lampas
Brief Description
woven silk, two joined lengths, English (Spitalfields), designed by James Leman, 1709
Physical Description
Two lengths of woven silk, seamed together with 2 ply S twist pink silk thread in running stitch. The width of each panel is 52.7 cm including selvedges, which each measure approx 0.8 cm.

The lengths of silk are crudely cut and turned at each end, and their seaming together has been done without regard to the pattern repeat.

The design repeats twice in the loom width, the length of the repeat 67 cm. Against a pink damask background there is a polychrome pattern in the foreground of fantasy architecture and plants, with some small details different from the original design.

The damask ground is woven in combination of a warp- and weft-faced 5-end satin. The main warp is pink, with cream main weft and a secondary (continuous or lancé) yellow weft. The brocading wefts are green x 2, white, pink x 2 (different to main warp), blue, cream. All brocading wefts are bound in twill by the secondary (binding) warp. Minor weaving faults throughout. Selvedges striped yellow and green in satin weave, with 4 cords in plain weave in white, yellow and pink. Most (but not all) of the selvedges cut with irregular diagonal slash at approx 2 cm intervals.

There are traces of sewing holes in a vertical line 2.6 cm in from right edge.
Dimensions
  • Length: 155.5cm (Note: the ends have been turned under, less than 1 cm at each end)
  • Width: 101cm
Historical context
The silk industry was one of the later developers among England’s great textile trades, but once the weaving of broad silks began to increase after the mid-17th century – in particular in the area of East London around Spitalfields – it grew quickly. Textile workers were drawn to the area by its increasing prosperity. In turn they introduced technical innovation and excellence in design which nurtured a flourishing production and trade. By the early 18th century, thousands of weavers and other members of the textile trades were contributing to a thriving London industry producing high-quality woven silk dress fabrics, in direct rivalry with French and other imported textiles.

James Leman, an exceptionally talented designer and weaver, was one of the leading figures in the 18th-century English silk industry. He was born into a weaving family of Huguenot descent in about 1688. Following apprenticeship to his father, in 1711 he was admitted as a ‘For[eign] Master' to the Weavers' Company. As well as training as a weaver, Leman also designed silks. This combination was very unusual for the English industry and was presumably because of his particular talent for design.

The V&A holds all of the original designs by James Leman known to have survived, including an album of his designs for woven silks (E.1861-1991). These designs were carried out between 1706 and 1716. Painted in watercolour and bodycolour, they carry manufacturing instructions as well as the names of the customers by whom they were commissioned. These designs are of astonishing accomplishment considering Leman’s youth. They are both visually bold in response to the new styles of textiles coming from France, Italy and Asia and technically complex, showing a clear understanding of how to exploit the intricate mechanisms of the drawloom.

This silk can be identified from Leman’s design E.1861:98-1991 The design’s inscription shows that it was commissioned by a Mr Tullie (this was Isaac Tullie, a leading mercer in Covent Garden) and drawn by Leman on 15th July 1709, when he would have been aged approximately 21.



Summary
This is the earliest known example of a woven silk designed by James Leman, one of the foremost figures in England’s 18th-century silk industry. It is one of only two Leman silks so far identified from his extant designs, and is in an unparalleled state of preservation.

The silk corresponds to James Leman’s original design drawing for the fabric which is already in the V&A’s collection, E.1861:98-1991, and provides invaluable information about the design and manufacturing processes of Spitalfields silks. Leman’s drawings are the earliest dated silk designs known to exist from any of the great European textile manufacturing centres.
Associated Object
Bibliographic Reference
Rothstein, Natalie. Silk Designs of the Eighteenth Century in the Collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London with a Complete Catalogue with 473 Illustrations, 371 in Colour. London: Thames and Hudson, 1990. 351p., ill. ISBN 0500235899.
Collection
Accession Number
T.156-2016

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record createdJanuary 14, 2016
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