Joubert – Commemorating 250 years of silk design

Over the past few months, myself and some colleagues in the Fashion and Textile department, in collaboration with the Courtauld Institute of Art,  have been busy organising a workshop. This will bring together academics, curators and students from different places and backgrounds. The workshop will celebrate the 250th anniversary of the first manual on silk design to be published in Europe, entitled, Les Dessinateur pour les etoffes d’or, d’argent et de soie.  Published in Paris in 1765, the manual was written by Antoine Nicolas Joubert de l’Hiberderie, a Lyonnais silk designer. Lyon was the centre of French silk production during this period.  Divided into fourteen chapters, Les Dessinateur  is a practical guide for aspiring silk designers providing context to silk industry in Lyon, technical information on various silks and the eventual destination of the silks.  The manual is a wonderful resource for textile historians, but up until now, has remained relatively obscure, as it is written in quite technical French.  An annotated translation of the text will be one of the outcomes of the workshop, making it accessible to a wider range of researchers.

T.404-1972, Silk Design, 1763 © V&A Collection

Working on the workshop over the past few months has enabled me to have a (admittedly very slow) read through of the manual.  I’ve found this to be a very interesting and enlightening process, as I discover more of Joubert’s thoughts on silk design.

The technical details, although initially difficult for me to understand and translate, have been useful when I’ve come to look at silk samples in the textile and fashion stores. Reading about the process of making watered silk, or moire , from the manual has been interesting, and it’s been great to have a context to looking at examples from the museum’s collection.  Joubert particularly admired watered silk, and he married the daughter of an English waterer, Anne Badger in 1775.  He devotes a whole chapter of the book to the process of making watered silk designs, and makes it easier for the reader to understand by illustrating his explanations with examples.

T.10-1962, Dress Fabric © V&A Collection

Objects from the museum’s collection, including silk designs, samples and fashionable dress have been integral to the planning process, and to the workshop itself.  One of the main outcomes will be for the participants to be able to discuss the manual alongside the objects that correspond with the descriptions in the book.

Over the next few months, I’m going to be providing an insight into the planning behind the workshop, the objects involved, and more of an context to both the manual, and to Joubert himself.

The workshop, which takes place in December, will be followed up by a conference at the Courtauld on 5 March 2016 –


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