By Sarah Corbett
From our birth until our death we are placed in contact with cloth. We swaddle our young and shroud our dead. Cloth is a close companion to us for our whole lives. These textiles expand our possibilities, to travel and to endure harsh environments. Cloth led to the establishments of our major land trade routes; which in turn brought exchanges of ideas from one culture to another. The silk routes which are named for the textiles they grew to transport became a conduit for so much more.
In modern times our need to have an understanding and respect for the fibres we wear has in many ways diminished; however, these details were hugely significant. Our societies were very much measured by the threads woven to make our clothes. The old testament tells us that a mixing of wool and linen was for most not an acceptable fabric to wear, this mix was solely for priests.
Elizabethan fashion brought us the Ruff, a fashion which was adopted by much of society, yet a status symbol if made from the finest lawn or camerick linens, further adornments added to the wearers status such a silk, lace, silver and gold.
The cloth dyed with the purple secretion of the Murex snail was at first reserved for the highest in Roman society, such as magistrates and generals. By the 4th Century BC the law had been tightened to the extent that only the Emperor was permitted to wear it.
From the earliest 30,000 year old fibres found on the floor of a cave in the Caucasus mountains, to the Spider silk derived from milk of the genetically modified goat, the story of cloth endures and evolves and will continue to do so. The human dependency and it’s use as a signifier of wealth and status continue to this day