On the 20th June we closed the doors of the Studio for a day so that we could visit the historic silk mills in Sudbury, Suffolk. Today Sudbury is regarded as the most important centre for silk weaving in Britain, producing nearly 95% of the nation’s woven silk from its three working mills.
We were met at Gainsborough Silk Mill and given a tour of their working mill. All stages of the fabric production are completed in house from design and dyeing to weaving and cataloguing. The mill works with natural fibres, silk, wool, cotton and linen. New designs are created digitally to be woven on the looms but there are still some historic designs that use punch cards to map out the woven design.
We were able to see the silk being dyed. To achieve an even colour the dye liquid is pumped over the silk yarn while it is hanging in the dye bath, this stops the need for constant stirring which can easily tangle the threads. Once the correct colour is achieved the dye is fixed.
The looms are warped up with up to 14,000 silk warps and then the weaving can begin.
Gainsborough Silk Mill also have an archive of all the designs woven at the mill since it opened in 1903, as well as a collection of fine fabrics that were collected by Reginald Warner prior to establishing the mill. The collection now exceeds 5000 fabrics.
Our second visit was to Gainsborough’s House to see their current exhibition, Silk: from Spitalfields to Sudbury, running until the 8th October. The exhibition examines the history of silk in England from the eighteenth century to the present day. It looks at the relocation from London to Suffolk of silk manufacturing in the nineteenth century and explores the local history of Sudbury’s silk mills.
Our final visit of the day was to Humphries Weaving Company. The team talked to us about a number of projects they have worked on for the National Trust. These included wall hangings for the Peter the Great room at Blickling Hall, wall and bed hangings at Kedleston Hall and the chapel wall hangings at Dunham Massey. It was amazing to see how much research went into the reproduction of historic fabrics.