Isn’t it perpetually astonishing that so humble and unattractive a creature can produce the most sumptuous and tactile of fabrics? Silk can absorb up to thirty times its weight in water, is warmer than wool, and is unsurpassed for beauty and touch.
In Silk (2007. Yale University Press), internationally respected textile and wallpaper historian, Mary Schoeser, enhances our knowledge of this wonder fabric by examining its unique physical structure, as well as paying keen attention to silk’s evolution as a symbol of status and substance.
Image: Homme Plissé Issey Miyake blue ikat pleated silk blazer
Schoeser has published and curated widely over a 40-year career. An Honorary Senior Research Fellow at London’s V&A, she has collaborated with the Fashion Textile Museum, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, amongst others. She has offered advice and consultation on historic textiles to English Heritage, the National Trust, Laura Ashley, Sanderson, and the John Lewis Partnership.
Research for her seminal volume was undertaken at the request of the European Centre for Silk Promotion. Its main concern was that the silk-related skills of the Western world may be lost to competition from the Far East. Schoeser’s remit was to produce a book that chronicled the historic significance of silk, whilst demonstrating its continued relevance to contemporary practice.
Image: Workers in the Cheney Brothers silk factory, USA. Courtesy of American history.
Schoeser’s knowledge of silk science is matched by her understanding of its social history. Silk, Schoeser suggests, offers new ways of thinking about the significance of the textile trade, including, for example, that the process of wearing or using foreign cloths also transplants the mode of that cloth's use, challenging the notion of Eurocentric fashion innovation. She contributes new research to the textile field, documenting how US policies, enacted in the post-WW2 period, led directly to China’s current dominance in textile manufacturing.
Mary Schoeser will be lending her expertise to a SELVEDGE panel discussion of all things silk, on 9 November, 2022. We look forward to benefitting from her wisdom.