Silk Weaving in Sudbury 13th Nov 2012
The Foxearth and District Local History Society on Tuesday 13th November gave a warm welcome to David Tooth, Chairman of the internationally famous Sudbury company of silk weavers – Vanners. The 20 or so members and guests present heard how silk was discovered at least 4,500 years ago in China and how it was at first highly prized and available only to the very rich. It was regarded as valuable as gold and used for trading. China had a virtual monopoly of silk production for over 1,000 years until around 300 AD when the craft spread to Japan and -via the Crusades- to Western Europe , particularly Italy and France. The suppression of Protestantism in the latter country in the 1680s led to substantial migration by the Huguenots to London, principally to Spitalfields, where textile manufacture, especially silk weaving, became the largest single occupation. Eventually the strong weaving tradition in East Anglia attracted some Huguenot families to settle there.
David described how Vanners - a name of Huguenot derivation –came to Suffolk in 1860 and to Sudbury at the beginning of the 20th century. The company soon became well-known for its production of flags and banners. Originally a highly labour intensive industry it now benefits from computer technology although there is still much that depends on the hands-on approach - for example the design work. The factory has three warping machines, about 50 looms and around 350 individual colour recipes and is in full time production. However to put the industry in context silk manufacture is only about 0.2% of total UK textile production..
Among the samples of woven silk and patterns that David brought along, were actual silk cocoons which the audience were delighted to handle. David described how the silk moth caterpillar, after consuming enormous quantities of mulberry leaves, spins a cocoon of a single thread that could be 1,000metres long and of almost microscopic thinness. To produce a weavable thread is a delicate operation (now, of course, mechanised) involving the twisting together of a number of the cocoon threads. The finished silk is a wonderfully smooth and exceptionally strong fibre, easy to dye, and resulting in high fashion, beautiful woven creations.
This was a most interesting insight into an age-old craft and David was warmly thanked by Chairman Alan Fitch for his talk.
The next gathering of the Society will be the annual Christmas Dinner at the Hare Inn, Long Melford on 11th December. Menus were distributed and arrangements for booking explained.