A Treasury of Textiles
Today is Bastille Day, and while the crowds outside are celebrating with music and fireworks, let’s slip down a cool dim hallway to lose ourselves in a treasury of French craftsmanship.
From 1732 to 1737 Marshal Richelieu (a great-great nephew of the famous Cardinal Richelieu of Three Musketeers fame), collected all the textiles he could find, that were made or sold in France, along with their prices, and contracts concerning them. Unlike many collections which limited their samples to the finest brocades and velvets, Richelieu collected everything, from samples from the royal wardrobes to rough cloth being woven by galley slaves.
AND WE HAVE IT ALL.
There are 205 pages of the Echantillons des tissus available on line at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, and many of the pages have multiple samples. The website is a joy to use, the pages load quickly, and you can zoom in to your heart’s content.
And because the Bibliothèque allows them to be shared on non-commercial sites, here are just a few of them. Remember, this was the 1730s. All of these samples are handspun, hand-dyed with natural colors, and handwoven. No one had yet thrown their sabot (wooden shoe) into a new, labor-saving device, committing sabotage. The fly shuttle was 8 years in the future, the cotton gin wouldn’t be invented for 50 years, and chemical dyes wouldn’t appear for another 120 years.
And Happy Bastille Day! Vive le France!
And may all our textiles last long enough to give joy to others!