Huguenots of Spitalfields Festival
Until Sun Apr 21
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Time Out says
Fri Apr 5 2013
The fashions of Spitalfields have come a long way. American Apparel outlets and vintage clothes stalls may be the area’s most enticing wares these days, but the original fabric of the area’s society was the very finest silk. This week the Huguenots of Spitalfields Festival celebrates the silk-spinners who set up shop in the area and made its goods the talk of the town.
In the late seventeenth century a quarter of a million French Protestants fled their home country after their religion was outlawed, and around 25,000 of them sought safety in east London. The Huguenot refugees arrived with little more than a sturdy work ethic and their considerable handicraft know-how.
Ministers from the French Protestant Church of London helped hook the new arrivals up with the area’s established weaving communities, and the businesses flourished at just the right moment; the eighteenth century was a golden age for weavers. Silk was in great demand, and Spitalfields silk was deemed the very best, thanks in part to its use of innovative floral patterns by lauded fabric designer Anna Maria Garthwaite, the Vivienne Westwood of her day.
Eventually America brought us cotton, fashions changed and fortunes were lost. But the community that the Huguenots established and much of what they developed still stands today; Dennis Severs’s house museum at 18 Folgate Street, and many of the Georgian houses on Fournier Street were originally home to master weavers.
The festival is taking Spitalfields back to its intricate roots, celebrating the success the Huguenots brought to the area with talks, tours, screenings and open days. Saturday April 13 brings The Big Weave to Spitalfields Market, with an exhibition of surviving Spitalfields silks on loan from the V&A, plus a programme of weaving workshops and demonstrations, traditional entertainment and market stalls. For full details see www.huguenotsofspitalfields.org.