The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Nov 9, 2013

Bed Valance

I happened to be at Osterley House the other day, and there was an exhibition there about the East India Company but this post is not about that, exactly. Rather, it's about the Childs, enormously wealthy members of the Company and one-time masters of Osterley, and the amazing history of their imports from the Orient.

In particular, one import - Indian textile.

In the early 18th century, silk textiles were a major export from Surat. The Cambay embroidery was considered one of the finest varieties of cloth, and it was immensely popular in Europe. Between 1700 and 1730, cloth produced by the artisans of the Mochi (cobbler) caste of Gujarat arrived at the Childs' mansion, and was used to create the bed pelmet cover and canopy in Mr and Mrs Child's Bedchamber.

The valance for the bed has a plain cream background with brightly embroidered patterns of thin branches and leaves in a dark green colour, with red and yellow flowers. I would show it to you except my camera's battery had died. (You can see an exemplar here.)

The Mochi folk had at one time developed their delicate skills of chain-stitch hooking and needlework on leather, and then adapted the technique to cloth. They had been patronised by the Mughals, but - seeing the particular tastes of the Europeans - they began to adapt their designs for the East India Company trade. From the great English factories in Surat started the huge export chain.

By the 1730s, the East India Company's monopoly was dwindling, but the factory in Surat was maintained.

Meanwhile the Childs had other fine products from India. One was a dressing table by their Yellow Taffeta bedchamber, described in a 1782 inventory: a deal toilet table with quilted stuff coat with gold worked muslin cover of Silk Veil covered with ditto. A japanned Glass and dressing boxes.

The table was made in India of real gold strips in pattern; the muslin textile, also gold-worked, was originally from India as well.


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