The psychedelic Leman silk

Conservation Science
May 16, 2018


Serendipity is a wonderful concept: it applies very clearly to the Leman Album, which has been discussed before in many other blog entries.

We had already started our multidisciplinary investigation of the Album, when a length of brocaded silk, clearly made from one of the Leman designs we own, was offered for sale to the V&A. What are the chances of something like this happening? Only one other fragment of textile from a Leman design has so far been identified in the whole world, and it’s in Adelaide, Australia.

Needless to say, we jumped on this one-in-a-billion chance and now this fabulously coloured silk is part of the V&A collections.

Inspecting the Leman textile.
Inspecting our Leman silk (T.156-2016).

Because this silk had never been made into clothes and had always been kept away from the light for the past 300 years, its colours are still exceptionally vibrant: I remember thinking it looked almost gaudy, the first time I laid my eyes on it, especially when compared to the rather subdued paper design…

Figure 1: A detail of the Leman textile (T.156-2016)
A detail of the Leman silk textile (T.156-2016)
Figure 2 - the Leman textile and the corresponding design next to one another
The Leman textile and the corresponding paper design.

Most early 18th century fabrics that have survived until our time have faded due to age, use and exposure to light. This is clearly not the case here: our Leman silk looks pretty much as dazzling as it would have been when it came out of the weaver’s workshop in 1709 or 1710, ready to be made into a fashionable lady’s gown or a gentleman’s waistcoat.

This silk was so special that it featured in the BBC Civilisations Programme in April 2018.

Loose thread ends on the reverse

Most of the dyes used for the production of coloured textiles at the beginning of the 18th century were of natural origin, and were extracted from plants or insects. There are a few loose thread ends of different colours on the reverse of the silk (see image on the left): an ideal situation since we wanted to find out what the dyes were made of, how sensitive to light they were and therefore how best to care of our new object.

Stay tuned, and find out more about the scientific analysis of the Leman dyes!

Read other Leman blogs:

About the author

Conservation Science
May 16, 2018

Dr Lucia Burgio is Lead Scientist at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. She has been at the V&A since 2000 and now manages the Science laboratory, guiding the scientific...

More from Lucia Burgio
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