The Spitalfields area of London was a major force in shaping eighteenth-century fashion as it was the center of the silk-weaving industry in England. Silk manufacture drove the very business of fashion for the increasing pace of change in trends during the century was found primarily in new textile patterns rather than garment styles or silhouettes which held sway for lengthier periods of time. The type of motifs, scale, rendering, and color palette in textile patterns went in and out of fashion and can be used to identify a garment as being from the 1710s, 1740s, or 1760s. The importance of silk-weaving and new designs to Georgian fashion cannot be underestimated as they conveyed not only taste but also status and wealth for the wearer.
Remarkably, one of the most successful and influential designers of silk patterns was an English woman, Anna Maria Garthwaite (1690-1763), who came to Spitalfields in 1730 and quickly infiltrated the male-dominated and family-based industry. In fact, the establishment and prosperity of Spitalfields silk-weaving was due largely to waves of immigration by French Huguenots fleeing persecution in the 16th and 17th centuries, many of whom were weavers bringing advanced skills. As a forty year old single woman, it is unlikely that Garthwaite received much if any of the formal training required of her male counterparts. She worked in watercolor and at her most prolific produced approximately eighty designs a year, tapering off in the 1750s to about thirty designs per annum
Garthwaite’s talent in floral patterns lent itself to the emergent Rococo style in the design arts. Concurrently, the development the points rentres technique allowed for rendering more three-dimensional, detailed shading on the drawloom in imitation of painting. The result was that larger, bolder designs showing off greater detail came to characterize flowered silks of the 1730s. As English designers such as Garthwaite took up the aesthetics of painting in woven silk design, naturalism came to be the “English” style, defining their version of the Rococo in contrast to the greater French inclination towards stylization, busier patterns, and colored grounds often incorporating ribbons, lace, shells, fur, and rocaille (stylized rock formations) alongside floral motifs.
Garthwaite’s composition above ingeniously creates opportunities to show off three-dimensional shading with leaves that curve outwards, petals and small posies that overlap each other, and peaches that seem to revel in their own roundness. Because Garthwaite’s style doesn’t seem to bear influence from the leading naturalists of the day, scholar Natalie Rothstein believes that Garthwaite would have visited botanical gardens directly to familiarize herself with the details of a wide variety of plants, especially those not native to the area. Garthwaite’s style then appears to be down to her own artistic vision and natural talent, and if her designs show the current trends in English silks, it is because she drove those trends.
The most distinctive feature of the Rococo was the S-curve line known as the Line of Beauty, promoted by William Hogarth in his treatise, Analysis of Beauty (1753) as well as the influential manual Laboratory or School of the Arts (1756). This meandering line can be found as early as 1743 in Garthwaite’s designs. Though a connected line is not always present, the curving motifs draw the eye on a sinuous path, seemingly turning and greeting each other in mimicry of partnered dances such as the minuet.
Most garments made from Spitalfields silks were altered, usually in the late 1780s or in the 1830s when dress styles changed and such flowered silks could fit the fashions. Surviving silks designed by Garthwaite can be viewed at the V&A in the British Galleries, Room 52B. In addition, a panel thought to be a Garthwaite design hangs in the Dennis Severs House in Spitalfields in the Hogarth room (to the left of the window). Her home at the corner of Princelet and Wilkes Streets still stands today and is marked by a plaque.
It is remarkable that a woman like Anna Maria Garthwaite achieved the level of success that she did. It is a testament not only to her sheer talent and vision but also her courage to value her own abilities.
 Natalie Rothstein, The Victoria & Albert Museum’s Textile Collection: Woven Textile Design in Britain to 1750. (New York: Canopy Books, 1994), 7.
 Natalie Rothstein, The Victoria & Albert Museum’s Textile Collection: Woven Textile Design in Britain to 1750. (New York: Canopy Books, 1994), 17
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