Understanding the textiles world 1: historical / ethnographicalcollection

I went to Arlington Court today, a Regency period National Trust house. The house is full of collections from sea shells to ships in bottles.

The house is also home to a large collection of costumes, most which are sadly put away and only bought out on special occasions (to keep them in the best condition). It also home to various home textiles, like silk wallpaper, hand stitched quilts, and enormous tapestries.

I was drawn to the homewares, as they can be identified with modern day textiles. They were all displayed in rooms as they would have been used at the time. Whilst this may not of been the best way to see the exhibits (some areas of the rooms were cornered off for protection) it certainly made them more appealing, than if they were just hanging up out of context. Each room came with a detailed booklet explaining the history to items.


There are 4 massive “The Continents” tapestries hanging on 3 walls in the tapestry room - a room with no windows and low levels of light (to protect them). They were originally hung in a dining room, which Sir Bruce Chicester built in 1865 to house them, until 1949. But when the room had to be demolished the National Trust removed them, and they were cleaned, restored and rehung in 1994.

They were made in the Beauvias factory in France in the 1790’s, with the size being limited to the biggest looms they had. They were woven with silk (for the sky and highlights) and wool (for the flesh and to create softer faces).

There are 4 tapestries, America, Europe, Asia and Africa, depicting the different scenes of the way each continent was viewed at the time.


I sketched Europe, which depicted “Minera, the goddess of war, presiding over the recognition of the Independence of the States which are symbolised by the escutcheons: France, Sardinia, Russia, Britain and an identifiable state. The Horse of War takes off to the right and Gratitude drops her garlands. The three Arts commune and the Seas promise the fruits of commerce.“

tapestry close.jpg

The tapestries were very of the moment, capturing the political time of the enlightenment period of the 18th century, which culminated in the French and America revolutions. I think it reflects the Neoclassicism movement, that drew inspiration from classical art and culture of Ancient Greece / Rome.

I love the detail of the tapestries, and the fact they tell a story of the world - far removed from their resting place. A world that many people viewing them would of had no idea of. It was interesting to note that the men making the tapestries (some depicting animals) were weaving creatures that they had never seen in real life. I think that we are so used to seeing the world in books,  TV, internet, that it’s hard to imagine that there was a time when people relied on art to inform them of the world beyond their lives.



Each bedroom had the original handmade quilt on the bed. My favourite quilt was in the master bedroom belonging to Rosealie Chichester, and is believed to have been a gift from her Godmother. It is hand sititched in an English hexagon patchwork design from cotton and silks from which are now almost two hundred years old and failing apart. Some of the damage is the natural breakdown of the fabric due to age and light exposure, but much is caused by human contact. There were notes everywhere saying "do not touch", and it was interesting to see a board with various materials on (paper, cotton, silk, leather) encouraging people to touch, to show the damage which can be caused simply by being touched by hundreds of people.


It was amazing to see the breakdown of the fabric (which had to be covered in netting), as I never imagine fabric simply deteriating. I guess we don't see this any more, partly due to our throw away society, where goods are bought then disposed of at the first sign of wear / damage. I think it's very sad that textiles are not treasured in the same way as they were once. Maybe this is more personal to me as I make and sell personalised quilts. It makes me wonder if the quilts I make, which are mainly for babies, children and weddings will survive the child's or couples life or simply be chucked away when they grow out of it ... or burnt when couples get divorced! :-)

Silk wallpaper


[wallpaper design drawn with gold pen on red paper]

The Boudoir's (the lady's private sitting room) walls are lined with red and gold silk wallpaper, in the clear style of that time and noticable French influence.  It stated that the "Red silk wall hangings are of Spitalfields silk and appear to be comtemporary to the 1830 redecoration".
Spitialsfields silk was hand weaved in Spitialfields Market, London. It started in 1700's when large numbers of Huguenots (French and Flemish Protestants) settled in the area after fleeing religious persecution. They were experts in silk-making and made "Spitialsfields silk" a world famous export. I love history, and it's fascinating to read the impact the Huguenots had on London, and legacy they still leave today with French sounding street names, Huguenot houses and the estimated  1/4 of London's population still has some Huguenot blood! ... My parents are from London, so I wonder if I have this silk weaving blood in me? :-)

Whilst housed in a room with closed curtains and hardly any light (to protect them) they are beautiful, and you can only but imagine how impressive and luxurious the room was in it's day.

I managed to find the image below from the Nation Trust website, along with a black and white postcard.


b&W boudoir.jpg

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