Spitalfields Silver Silk
Spitalfields Silver Silk
Spitalfields Silver Silk
Spitalfields Silver Silk
Spitalfields Silver Silk
Spitalfields Silver Silk
Spitalfields Silver Silk

Spitalfields Silver Silk

One of the skirt lengths (F) from a Spitalfields silk mantua or formal gown, the fabric almost certainly designed by Anna Maria Garthwaite. These are the best quality Spitalfields silks I have handled. As so often happened with fine and very expensive fabrics in the 18th century the gowns were later altered.

A length of exceptional and rare silk brocade unpicked from a mantua (not by me) almost certainly designed by Spitalfields most famous woman silk designer Anna Maria Garthwaite. Because we cannot find an exact copy of the design of the silk, the academics will not say it was definately designed by Anna Maria Garthwaite, just almost certainly designed by her. This is so often the case with textiles when the original designs cannot be found. The design is very similar to a design of an existing silver and blue silk brocade in the V & A collection, which we have illustrateed.*  Our silver and silk fabric is sumptous and would have been extremely expensive to weave and purchase.  The surface texture of the flat silver-gilt beside a densely crinkled frisé and a filé is very effective. Imagine the impact it would have made when worn at a candlelight ball. Natalie Rothstein** talks about "quirks of style" in Anna Maria Garthwaite's designs, such as folded-over leaves, which you can see here with the acanthus leaves. One of the fruits depicted is the Buddhist citroen hand, a symbol of happiness, good fortune and longevity and is often offered in Buddhist temples. The fruit is very fragrant and used in China and Japan to perfume garments and rooms.The other fruit appears to be Japanese influenced.  Clearly Anna Maria must have observed these on the popular Chinese export textiles of the period.

Brocading allowed precious silver thread to be woven only on the surface of the silk, and not wasted on the reverse.

Mantuas were generally made from very expensive fabrics for special occasions at court. The width of the panniers indicated the social status of the wearer. They were relatively unstructured in shape with the expensive fabric draped and pinned on the body, thus displaying the exotic fabric.

It is not known who wore the gown and is part of a dress collection recently found in a house which was built in 1550. Full provenance available.

Anna Maria Garthwaite (1690-1763) established her trade at 2 Princelet (formerly Princes) Street, Spitalfieds, lived and worked there from 1730 (aged 40) until her death in 1763. There is very little known about Anna Maria. The information below comes from Natalie Rothstein's book.* Anna Maria was the daughter of the Rev Ephraim Garthwaite of Grantham, Lincolnshire and his wife Rejoyce Hansted. She lived with her family until her father died when she was 36.  Parson's daughers and wives had no income or home when their fathers died and Anna Maria moved into the house of her sister Mary and clergyman husband in Yorkshire .  What is so astonishing is that AM had no training as a designer, and despite considerable research by Natalie Rothstein, it is not known how she learned to draw so competently, nor where she learned the technical skills to design for a drawloom.  Perhaps she was naturally gifted at drawing and was quick to learn the techniques for making the drawing suitable for the weaver. Presumably she needed to make a living to support herself and probably her sister, whose husband had died. Anna Maria and her sister moved to London around 1729, when she was 40, and lived in Spitaflields until her death. As a freelance designer she produced eighty designs a year, almost entirely for dress silks.  Her nephew Vincent Bacon was an apothecary and surgeon with a practice in Spitalfields. He was also a naturalist and with their shared interests must have discussed and looked at drawings and specimens, which Anna Maria would have copied and been influenced by. Both the Garthwaite's and the Bacon's had strong clerical affiliations, but also mercers and other tradesman in their families.  Botanical styles became fashionable in the 1740s, and Anna Maria's choice of unusual flowers suggest she may have known Peter and James Collinson. They were merchants trading with America, particularly in textiles, but had an important garden in Mill Hill which Anna Maria probably visited for inspiration.



The finely ribbed ivory silk tafetta ground brocaded and woven with a huge design of fruits and flowers, including a Buddhist citroen hand.  Two effects are produced with the silver-gilt, which has been spun round a ivory silk core. The first effect is of flat strips side by side contrasting with a densely crinkled effect frisé, the selvedges with three green stripes.

38  x 21 in; 97 x 54 cm wide - one selvedge and half width selvedge.

Repeat: 22 in; 56 cm

Silk width: 21 in ; 54 cm wide selvedge to selvedge.

The large fruit 6 and 7 in; 16 and 18 cm high.


The top has pleating marks.  The very centre top has a 1 1/2 in; 3 cm tear which has been hand stitched, which could be unpicked and supported by a more sympathetic hand! There are two holes close to the top, which you should be able to see in the photos. Two small light brown stains to top centre and small split where silk has been folded 3 in; 8 cm. To the top left leaf you will see some of the silver threads are loose. A small hole above the left hand motif. A little tarnishing to the top left fruit. Do ask for more photos.

There is enough silk on the waist turn back to use for hole repairs.


*For similar large silver design on silk: Silk Designs of the Eighteenth Century. Natalie Rothstein p 156/7 nos 154/5.

https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O15327/dress-fabric-garthwaite-anna-maria. This example designed by Anna Maria Garthwaite, is a silk tabby brocaded in silver thread.

V & A file on Anna Maria Garthwaite 5976.2.


Patterns of Fashion 1 Janet Arnold. New wonderful edition revised and compiled by: Melanie Braun, Luca Costigliolo, Sébastien Passot, Claire Thonrton & Jenny Tiramani.

Price: £700 | $880 | €810

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