Silk and empire

Author: Brenda M. King

The collections of Indian silks made in the nineteenth century reveal the overwhelming evidence for the positive and unbroken appreciation of India's silk textiles over centuries by industrialists, educators, designers, theorists, museum curators and consumers. This book challenges the notion that Britain always exploited its empire. Silk was a labour intensive, luxury commodity that provided livelihoods for hundreds of thousands of workers in Indian and England during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship were all part of the Anglo-Indian silk trade and were nurtured in the era of empire through mutually beneficial collaboration. Many silk manufacturers and design theorists who were consistent in their thinking and who wanted to make beautiful things in an ethical manner followed the ethics of the Arts and Crafts Movement. In 1836 the Central School of Art and Design was founded, followed by a branch in Spitalfields, then the centre of English silk production. The strong links between Indian designs, the English silk industry and prominent members of the English the arts and crafts movement led to the production of beautiful and luxurious textiles. The trade operated within and without the empire, according to its own dictates and prospered in the face of increasing competition from China and Japan. The book demonstrates that Indian silks were admired by English textile manufacturers both for their technical and aesthetic attributes, and for their ability to help undermine French supremacy in European silk production.

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