Wednesday, March 13, 2013

'Colour in Textiles'

 'Colour in Textiles' by Susan Kay-Williams.

I was pleased to read a review copy of this book.
Just dipping into the book is fascinating, it is a research based book suited to academic settings, however, because of the clear descriptive style it grabs your imagination. It is beautifully illustrated, with extensive references and bibliography. There are so many interesting facts related to the subject which I certainly never knew; for instance did you know that the Spartans had severe laws against dyeing, as the Spartan word ‘dolun’ meant both to dye and deceive, so that as ‘deceivers’ dyers were banished. That the Romans are believed to have worn cloth dyed red using madder to instil terror in their foes during battle.
Don’t for a minute think that this is a dry subject, there was much intrigue and secrecy linked to the lucrative dyeing trade. One chapter is entitled ‘Mystery, Art and Science, the 17th century’. Cochineal was thought for a long time to come from ‘berries’ which Cortes was said in 1519 to have seen Aztec farmers harvesting. Commercial protectionism meant that no one in Europe outside of Spain knew that cochineal was an insect until the development of the microscope. When countries other than Spain began to want access to the New Worlds’ riches, including cochineal, its trade was prohibited on pain of death and could only be purchased once it reached Seville. So much intrigue. A King’s inspector was appointed in 1631 to check on imports of madder which was being adulterated with sand.

Having just read Hilary Mantels’ books ‘Wolfe Hall’ and Bring up the Bodies’ I am particularly interested in the colour of clothing and tapestries in the time of Henry VIII. There is an illustration showing a portrait of the king with Jane Seymour his third wife; to see her portrait and a discussion of the colours worn was particularly interesting as I felt like she had become a real person to me. They are not portrayed in purple, which was the royal colour, but rather in reds and golds. Red is thought to have been favoured due to its link to the red rose of Lancashire and also represents the Divine Right of Kings.
I am a big fan of the ipad, even though I like to read fiction on my Kindle, I like to see illustrations, maps and family trees on the Kindle app on the ipad. I was also surprised to find that via the app I can do a search which gives me a list of quotes , for instance of the many references to weaving, tapestries and colours in Hilary Mantels books; Thomas Cromwell having ‘grown up’ in the  cloth trade in The Netherlands. Passages you mark as you read are clearly bookmarked in the app... Here are one or two that I liked and which link to the theme of colour in textiles:

There is a description of Thomas Cromwell’s loose Lemster wool jackets which he wore at Court, ‘so fine they flow like water, in purples and indigos so near black that it looks as if the night had bled into them’.

There are ‘vestments of red turkey satin and white lawn wrought with beasts in gold’.

If you then want to know more about the history of turkey red or Indigo it’s all in Susan Kay-Williams book.

You will probably feel near tears at Ann Boleyn’s beheading, and then interested to know that she left huge debts not least owed to her ‘dyer, her farrier and her pinmaker’ and ‘ fifty-five pounds to her embroiderer’.

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  1. Fsascinating reading and so steeped in history, enough for me to want to go and source a copy. Hugs Mrs A.

  2. This is such FASCINATING stuff ... I devour it like other people scarf candy! Great post & now I really regret not finishing 'Wolfe Hall' ~ I've put it back on the "to read" list and will leave here newly beguiled by RED ;>]]


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