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The process of producing silk was discovered in China where, according to legend, a princess found out that cocoons can be unraveled into long yarns when one of those cocoons fell into the tea she was drinking under the mulberry tree. Those yarns, when woven, gave the world its most luxurious, softest and shiniest fabric.

As the world slowly learned of this exceptional fabric, Chinese merchants started selling silk outside China. There is evidence that the ancient Greeks had silk. At first typical Chinese textiles were carried by camel caravans along the Silk Road all the way to Europe, later maritime routes were introduced and the silks to be sold were specifically designed and made to meet the expectations of the destined clientele. The Europeans engaged in the trade were Portuguese to begin with, but later on other countries entered the market –Spain, Holland, Denmark, England and starting at the 16th century, America. The western market had its heydays in the 18th century benefitting from a ban in England and France on importing goods from the Far East.

Europe-destined goods were first imported for the Portuguese church and royal court who ordered bedcovers and religious attire. Later on, the French ordered painted dress material, up to the 1920’s when the Manila shawl craze swept the world.

The ornamentation and the iconography of Chinese export textiles is derived from both tradition and relies heavily on Chinese appreciation for copying. There are always considerations paid for current fashionable colors, motifs, and designs.

This square shawl has a double-sided embroidery of butterflies. They are all within a wide border featuring flowers against a lined background. One can tell the European touches in the scalloped borders, the late 19th century French color palette, the linear background of the wide border and the rather stiff butterfly arrangement substituting for the typical Chinese scatter design.

Circa: Late 19th/ early 20th century

Origin: China for the European market

Material: Silk embroidery on silk netting

Condition: Netting stretched in two spots but intact, very good condition

Dimensions: 64” x 70”

Inventory number: NS00011



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