In the XVIII Century the production of a silk dress (beautiful, stylish, fashionable and, at the same time, practical as well as robust) was a highly complex process involving numerous individuals, tasks and levels of skills.
There were many tradesmen and craftsmen involved: journeymen weavers, dyers, pattern drawers, mercers and retailers and presiding over the whole industry were the entrepreneurs, the master weavers with the capital to invest. They bought the silk, employed the workforce and oversaw the creation of what is one of the finest fabrics the world has ever seen.
The complex journey from raw material to finished garment usually begun with the specialized merchants who imported the silk from China, India or Italy.
Then the silk would go to the “throwsters”, workmen that cleaned the silk and twisted it into a yarn or thread known as “single”. Once the single had been prepared they were transported to waivers or, if the thread was to be coloured before weaving, to dyers.
Dying was one of the most fascinating of all the many facets of the silk industry as dyers where the trade’s scientists, constantly striving to make dyes that produced strong and attractive colours and were as stable as possible at the same time.
At this stage the master weaver took the lead role buying the prepared silk and organising its transformation into bolts of fabric. This involved commissioning designs from “pattern-drawers” prepared for weaving use. Eventually the silk threads were given to journeymen weavers who wove the designs.
Once woven the bolt of fabric would be returned to the master weaver who would then warehouse it and sell directly to the public or leave the fabric to a mercer.
When it came to the buying public, what was on offer in the shop was not the ready-made garment but fabric that they would send to tailors to fashion into dresses to suit taste and size.