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French, ca. 1725–30

With their luxuriant patterns and pleasing symmetry, so-called lace pattern silks of the early eighteenth century were used for sumptuous fashions and furnishings throughout Europe. Peaking in popularity in the 1720s, lace pattern brocades underscore a significant design exchange between two important French industries. Silks of this type are characterized by areas of delicate diaper patterning and fillings that typically resemble lace or net. It may appear that silk weavers derived their designs from pieces of lace; however, it was in fact the brocades that inspired the lacemakers of the day. Though independently creative, lace manufacturers kept abreast of stylistic developments in related fields—within the detailed, mesh-like silk patterns of this brief period, designers saw great potential for new types of intricacies in their laces.

For the stylish and wealthy, lace pattern silks were transformed into extravagant garments. In 1729, Mrs. Delany, an avid observer of British and Continental fashions, wrote to a friend about her latest indulgence—a dress she had commissioned, made from French silk with a ground of "…dark grass green, brocaded in a running pattern like lace of white intermixt with festoons of flowers in faint colours." The cost per yard of her silk was £17; comparatively, a yard of plain taffeta in this period cost about eight shillings. Since a court dress could require as many as sixteen yards of material, a significant investment is represented in the choice of such an expensive brocade. So similar in description to Mrs. Delany’s silk, this example—with gently scrolling bands, lush foliage and elegant palette—was made all the more luminous with the profuse addition of silver brocading. Generous use of metallic-wrapped threads demonstrates an artful command of texture: both frisé (twisted for a crinkled effect) and filé (smooth in appearance) are employed here with great decorative flourish. The purity of silver is evident in the lack of any significant tarnish. As splendid as when first woven, this lace pattern silk demonstrates the exceptional results achieved by French weavers of the eighteenth century.

48" H x 20.75" W

Brocaded Lace Pattern Silk
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