Silk makes the difference

Anne Shippen Willing, the wife of a wealthy Philadelphia merchant, is portrayed here wearing a silk designed by Anna Maria Garthwaite, a pattern-drawer who lived in Spitalfields in the Eighteen Century.

Born in Lincolnshire, she came to Spitalfields to launch her career as a designer and for over thirty years - until her death in 1763 - she produced patterns for many local master weavers.

Eighteenth-century silk designers like her were skilled labourers who almost always worked independently, on commission. They drew designs that showed weavers what patterns of colour and decoration to follow to create lengths of silk on their looms.

Novelty in eighteenth-century silk depended largely on the creation of new textile patterns, which changed more rapidly than the cut of clothing, and Garthwaite drew hundreds of them, distinctively produced and usually limited to only four pieces woven from a single one.

Silk and the wearing of it was obviously one of the most potent symbols of class divisions in Georgian London: “we are all Adam’s children, but silk makes the difference”.


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