THE GAINSBOROUGH SILK WEAVING COMPANY
The Suffolk textile brand loved by Hollywood and British royalty
The small market town of Sudbury in Suffolk is the birthplace of Thomas Gainsborough, celebrated portraitist to the 18th-century aristocracy. It’s easy to imagine his well-heeled sitters as clients of The Gainsborough Silk Weaving Company, established in his hometown in 1903. Its sumptuous damask and brocade fabrics have graced royal palaces and the Titanic, as well as the set of the recently released Beauty and the Beast film.
The company was founded by Reginald Warner, an entrepreneurial weaver who travelled around Europe and brought back exceptional fabrics that he used to create innovative new designs. More than a century later, Gainsborough is still making its fabrics by hand, using looms from the 1920s. It operates from the same ‘weaving shed’ that it has owned since 1924.
The secret of Gainsborough’s lustrous silks is not only in its traditional methods and high thread counts. Most important is the type of silk used: filament silk, the finest quality thread available, which is brought to Suffolk all the way from China on the ancient Silk Route. Once it reaches the factory, a lengthy dyeing and drying process ensues, and then it can take up to six days to weave 50 metres of fabric.
Though age-old techniques are the foundation of what Gainsborough does, it has not remained frozen in time. In 2013, interior designer Russell Sage was recruited as creative director, and brought the company a new audience by using its textiles in chic London venues the Goring Hotel and Zetter Townhouse Marylebone. And last year, designer Karen Beauchamp was commissioned to create two collections. The first, ‘Renaissance’ (top), puts a modern twist on archive patterns, from damasks to gingham checks, all in a contemporary palette. Her next collection, ‘Out of the Blue’ – which she describes as having ‘a 20th-century vibe’ – will bring even more fans ( gainsborough.co.uk).
Gainsborough’s damasks and brocades have graced film sets, royal palaces and the Titanic