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Selvedge Magazine | Issue 91

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Issue 91 Luxe 

Published November / December 2019 

WORDS BY Polly Leonard Founder

"Made in China 2025 is a government initiative which aims to move China away from being the world's factory (producing cheap, low-quality goods due to lower labour costs) towards producing higher-value products and services. This vision for the future is, in fact, a return to the past, as silk, one of the worlds high-end fibres was discovered in China, the oldest examples date to around 3630 BC. Originally reserved for the elite, silk was used as currency as well as clothing, and the monopoly of sericulture production was a closely guarded secret for over a thousand years.

For as long as I can remember I have found fashion and textiles compelling. I have interned with every museum costume department that would have me, from the FIT in New York to the V&A. Before my PhD, I worked as an assistant curator at the Harris Museum, with their wonderful Horrockses Fashions collection. Now I combine being features editor at Selvedge with living all over the world (Bermuda, Ireland, India, Qatar, Jersey and Gibraltar...so far). Reading about cloth is my perfect job. 

Slowly the secret leaked first to Thailand where we can now enjoy the beauty of Jim Thompson's home in Bangkok, the man credited with reviving the Thai silk industry in the 1950s. Silk also travelled to India, before spreading to the Byzantine empire, and eventually, silk weaving was established in Persia and Italy where it thrives today. The Silk Road derives its name from the lucrative trade in silk carried out along the length of these interconnecting routes.

In this issue, we trace silk from its Chinese origins and follow it along the Silk Road through Uzbekistan, and stopping off in Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand. We also visit India, where we discover eri silk, the contemporary silk prints of The Summer House, and the exquisite embroidery of Asif Shaikh. Then to Afghanistan, where the French photographer Matthieu Paley shares his precious intimate images of the Kyrgyz nomads. Finally, we come to Europe, where silk caused quite a stir in 16th century London, to contemporary fashion brand Carcel who work in the Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institution, Thailand, pioneering a new model for prison employment.

I hope you are able to join me at Mary Ward House for our annual winter fair where Anna-Louise Meynell will be showing beautiful eri silks and we can all enjoy a little luxury this holiday."

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