A History of Stripes

Whitchurch silk millNicola here. A couple of weeks ago I visited the Whitchurch Silk Mill. Built in 1813, on land owned by Winchester Cathedral, it was built by the Hayter family and then developed by William Maddick. Through the 19th and early 20th century it produced silk, providing work for the local populace and going through some hard times and some good like many small businesses. From 1911 the mill wove silk for Burberry, producing 22 different colours of silk lining for their famous raincoats. In the 1980s after falling into disrepair it was restored as a working museum using traditional machinery and methods.

Visiting the museum was completely fascinating. Weaving silk is a very complicated business but it was so much easier to understand when you could follow IMG_1082 (002) the different steps in the process and even have a go on the silk looms yourself. It was also a real insight to see what working conditions were like in the Victorian age – some of the child workers started at nine years old!

The Whitchurch mill has always specialised in stripes and there was a very interesting exhibition on show about striped designs and their history. Stripes in
nature have long been an inspiration for designers. Stripes can be used as both camouflage and as warning. Both prey – zebras, for example – and predators such as tigers, have stripes that allow them to blend in. Snakes, various insects and even badgers have them to scare the predators away.

The history of stripes is really interesting.  Striped fabric is achieved by alternating colours of the yarn in either the warp or the weft of the material. In medieval times the line from the bible Striped material which read “You will not wear upon yourself a garment that is made of two” was interpreted to suggest that stripes denoted sinfulness. They became the symbol of outcasts and criminals – the bold pattern marking people out as “other”.  Lepers, prostitutes, clowns, heretics, criminals and hangmen were all required by law to wear striped attire to make them immediately visible and set them apart. Striped prison uniforms first appeared in the 1920s in America. The high visibility of stripes was also useful for discouraging prisoners from trying to escape whilst the broad black and white horizontal stripes were also considered vulgar and a means of humiliating the wearer. (One of my favourite dresses has broad black and white stripes – I love it!)

However, by the end of the 18th century, the virtues of symmetry as reflected in the neoclassical movement had also led to stripes starting to appear on furnishing, curtains and wallpaper. From there it was just a small step to them moving into fashion.

Newmarket waistcoatA prize exhibit was a Newmarket yellow and white striped waistcoat from the Regency era that had belonged to Thomas Crewe Dodd Esquire of Edge Hall, Malpas, Cheshire. This particular stripe became very popular in the Regency period as a result of the British presence in India. This particular stripe was often called “Bengal” or tiger stripe.

Then there are the fashion-forward mariners of the French Navy who adopted an iconic blue and white striped design for their uniforms in 1858. There was a practical side to this idea – it made it easier to spot a man overboard! This design trend was picked up by Coco Chanel in her 1917 collection and the Breton stripe became the pinnacle of cool. From that point the stripe was seldom out of fashion!

The Whitchurch Silk Mill has always specialised in stripes. In 1999 they produced a silk banner for the Winchester Great Hall, a 13th century medieval hall
that had once been part of Winchester Castle. As the hall is the home of the iconic round table of Arthurian legend it needed grand silken banners to match!

In the contemporary world, stripes have been adopted by different groups and communities to show unity and make a display of their presence. They are also a useful graphic to demonstrate things such as climate change.

I love the derivation of words and the other thing about the Silk Mill that fascinated me was the list of phrases that have sprung from the weaving process. IMG_6972 (002) “On tenterhooks” meaning being in a state of anticipation, comes from a tenter, a wooden frame on which cloth was hung to prevent it from shrinking when it dried. “Dyed in the wool” meaning someone who is stubborn in their opinion derives from the fact that wool dyed before it is being spun into threads and woven into cloth is the least likely to fade and change. And “cloth ears” which I remember from my childhood was used to describe someone who didn’t listen – it derives from the fact that weavers and spinners suffered deafness both from the noise in the mills and also the cotton dust that gathered in their ears!

Silk is an amazingly strong and versatile fabric. Satin will reflect the light and create stunning ballgowns. Ottoman silk is much sturdier for academic and legal gowns for example, and gauze is incredibly light and filmy. It’s no wonder that when the Chinese discovered silk, they allegedly kept it a secret for three thousand years! It was far too precious to share.

Are you a fan of stripes in clothing and/or furnishings? Do you have a favourite style?

90 thoughts on “A History of Stripes”

  1. Fabulous post, Nicola! I’m not a massive fan of stripes either as I’m a very short person and if I wear stripes the wrong way it makes me look square . But on furnishings, curtains or wallpaper I’m all for it!

    Reply
  2. Fabulous post, Nicola! I’m not a massive fan of stripes either as I’m a very short person and if I wear stripes the wrong way it makes me look square . But on furnishings, curtains or wallpaper I’m all for it!

    Reply
  3. Fabulous post, Nicola! I’m not a massive fan of stripes either as I’m a very short person and if I wear stripes the wrong way it makes me look square . But on furnishings, curtains or wallpaper I’m all for it!

    Reply
  4. Fabulous post, Nicola! I’m not a massive fan of stripes either as I’m a very short person and if I wear stripes the wrong way it makes me look square . But on furnishings, curtains or wallpaper I’m all for it!

    Reply
  5. Fabulous post, Nicola! I’m not a massive fan of stripes either as I’m a very short person and if I wear stripes the wrong way it makes me look square . But on furnishings, curtains or wallpaper I’m all for it!

    Reply
  6. Thank you, Nicola, for such an interesting history about weaving and the design of stripes.
    It’s terrible that the byproduct of needing to work at a mill was the loss of hearing and the young children working there, who most likely were from a big family and had to bring in a wage to keep food on the table.
    Interior design stripes on walls, wallpaper or wide painted stripes can open up a small room to make it seem larger. I saw a makeover of a very small studio apartment in Manhattan, and it looked spectacular in the panels of wide light blue stripes.
    As far as clothing, I’m not a big fan of stripes, either horizontal (which puts on weight) or vertical (no matter what people say about looking taller).
    By the way, I am thoroughly enjoying “The Winter Garden.” Thank you for such a beautifully written novel.

    Reply
  7. Thank you, Nicola, for such an interesting history about weaving and the design of stripes.
    It’s terrible that the byproduct of needing to work at a mill was the loss of hearing and the young children working there, who most likely were from a big family and had to bring in a wage to keep food on the table.
    Interior design stripes on walls, wallpaper or wide painted stripes can open up a small room to make it seem larger. I saw a makeover of a very small studio apartment in Manhattan, and it looked spectacular in the panels of wide light blue stripes.
    As far as clothing, I’m not a big fan of stripes, either horizontal (which puts on weight) or vertical (no matter what people say about looking taller).
    By the way, I am thoroughly enjoying “The Winter Garden.” Thank you for such a beautifully written novel.

    Reply
  8. Thank you, Nicola, for such an interesting history about weaving and the design of stripes.
    It’s terrible that the byproduct of needing to work at a mill was the loss of hearing and the young children working there, who most likely were from a big family and had to bring in a wage to keep food on the table.
    Interior design stripes on walls, wallpaper or wide painted stripes can open up a small room to make it seem larger. I saw a makeover of a very small studio apartment in Manhattan, and it looked spectacular in the panels of wide light blue stripes.
    As far as clothing, I’m not a big fan of stripes, either horizontal (which puts on weight) or vertical (no matter what people say about looking taller).
    By the way, I am thoroughly enjoying “The Winter Garden.” Thank you for such a beautifully written novel.

    Reply
  9. Thank you, Nicola, for such an interesting history about weaving and the design of stripes.
    It’s terrible that the byproduct of needing to work at a mill was the loss of hearing and the young children working there, who most likely were from a big family and had to bring in a wage to keep food on the table.
    Interior design stripes on walls, wallpaper or wide painted stripes can open up a small room to make it seem larger. I saw a makeover of a very small studio apartment in Manhattan, and it looked spectacular in the panels of wide light blue stripes.
    As far as clothing, I’m not a big fan of stripes, either horizontal (which puts on weight) or vertical (no matter what people say about looking taller).
    By the way, I am thoroughly enjoying “The Winter Garden.” Thank you for such a beautifully written novel.

    Reply
  10. Thank you, Nicola, for such an interesting history about weaving and the design of stripes.
    It’s terrible that the byproduct of needing to work at a mill was the loss of hearing and the young children working there, who most likely were from a big family and had to bring in a wage to keep food on the table.
    Interior design stripes on walls, wallpaper or wide painted stripes can open up a small room to make it seem larger. I saw a makeover of a very small studio apartment in Manhattan, and it looked spectacular in the panels of wide light blue stripes.
    As far as clothing, I’m not a big fan of stripes, either horizontal (which puts on weight) or vertical (no matter what people say about looking taller).
    By the way, I am thoroughly enjoying “The Winter Garden.” Thank you for such a beautifully written novel.

    Reply
  11. Thank you, Nicola, for your informative post! I can’t think of any striped clothing I own; the closest things I have are made of wide wale corduroy.
    I hadn’t known the derivation of “on tenterhooks” which is a phrase I use. So a second thank you for that!

    Reply
  12. Thank you, Nicola, for your informative post! I can’t think of any striped clothing I own; the closest things I have are made of wide wale corduroy.
    I hadn’t known the derivation of “on tenterhooks” which is a phrase I use. So a second thank you for that!

    Reply
  13. Thank you, Nicola, for your informative post! I can’t think of any striped clothing I own; the closest things I have are made of wide wale corduroy.
    I hadn’t known the derivation of “on tenterhooks” which is a phrase I use. So a second thank you for that!

    Reply
  14. Thank you, Nicola, for your informative post! I can’t think of any striped clothing I own; the closest things I have are made of wide wale corduroy.
    I hadn’t known the derivation of “on tenterhooks” which is a phrase I use. So a second thank you for that!

    Reply
  15. Thank you, Nicola, for your informative post! I can’t think of any striped clothing I own; the closest things I have are made of wide wale corduroy.
    I hadn’t known the derivation of “on tenterhooks” which is a phrase I use. So a second thank you for that!

    Reply
  16. I like stripes! I recently viewed a decor makeover video in which a large beanbag ‘chair’ was covered in a stripe pattern with colors that matched a busy huge-leaf-patterned accent wall. The complementary straight and curved lines tempered each other and I loved the completeness of the effect. Could be a good combination in clothing, too, disguising a less-than-perfect figure while adding interest to the overall look. (I can’t do chic, but I like to give people something colorful to look at!)

    Reply
  17. I like stripes! I recently viewed a decor makeover video in which a large beanbag ‘chair’ was covered in a stripe pattern with colors that matched a busy huge-leaf-patterned accent wall. The complementary straight and curved lines tempered each other and I loved the completeness of the effect. Could be a good combination in clothing, too, disguising a less-than-perfect figure while adding interest to the overall look. (I can’t do chic, but I like to give people something colorful to look at!)

    Reply
  18. I like stripes! I recently viewed a decor makeover video in which a large beanbag ‘chair’ was covered in a stripe pattern with colors that matched a busy huge-leaf-patterned accent wall. The complementary straight and curved lines tempered each other and I loved the completeness of the effect. Could be a good combination in clothing, too, disguising a less-than-perfect figure while adding interest to the overall look. (I can’t do chic, but I like to give people something colorful to look at!)

    Reply
  19. I like stripes! I recently viewed a decor makeover video in which a large beanbag ‘chair’ was covered in a stripe pattern with colors that matched a busy huge-leaf-patterned accent wall. The complementary straight and curved lines tempered each other and I loved the completeness of the effect. Could be a good combination in clothing, too, disguising a less-than-perfect figure while adding interest to the overall look. (I can’t do chic, but I like to give people something colorful to look at!)

    Reply
  20. I like stripes! I recently viewed a decor makeover video in which a large beanbag ‘chair’ was covered in a stripe pattern with colors that matched a busy huge-leaf-patterned accent wall. The complementary straight and curved lines tempered each other and I loved the completeness of the effect. Could be a good combination in clothing, too, disguising a less-than-perfect figure while adding interest to the overall look. (I can’t do chic, but I like to give people something colorful to look at!)

    Reply
  21. Really interesting post, especially as I have just watched a tv series called The Mill. It’s an old series but I’ve just caught up with it. The conditions the workers lived and worked in was appalling!!!
    I’m not a fan of striped clothes either or soft furnishings.
    Interesting how words from jobs can become everyday use to mean something completely different.

    Reply
  22. Really interesting post, especially as I have just watched a tv series called The Mill. It’s an old series but I’ve just caught up with it. The conditions the workers lived and worked in was appalling!!!
    I’m not a fan of striped clothes either or soft furnishings.
    Interesting how words from jobs can become everyday use to mean something completely different.

    Reply
  23. Really interesting post, especially as I have just watched a tv series called The Mill. It’s an old series but I’ve just caught up with it. The conditions the workers lived and worked in was appalling!!!
    I’m not a fan of striped clothes either or soft furnishings.
    Interesting how words from jobs can become everyday use to mean something completely different.

    Reply
  24. Really interesting post, especially as I have just watched a tv series called The Mill. It’s an old series but I’ve just caught up with it. The conditions the workers lived and worked in was appalling!!!
    I’m not a fan of striped clothes either or soft furnishings.
    Interesting how words from jobs can become everyday use to mean something completely different.

    Reply
  25. Really interesting post, especially as I have just watched a tv series called The Mill. It’s an old series but I’ve just caught up with it. The conditions the workers lived and worked in was appalling!!!
    I’m not a fan of striped clothes either or soft furnishings.
    Interesting how words from jobs can become everyday use to mean something completely different.

    Reply
  26. Hi Nicola,
    Really interesting read. I wanted to let you know about a master weaver, Michael Rohde. He does very intricate weaving in wool, depicting stories and memories and pictures in lines into his weavings. Check him out. His work is as interesting as the silk work you described.
    Kantu

    Reply
  27. Hi Nicola,
    Really interesting read. I wanted to let you know about a master weaver, Michael Rohde. He does very intricate weaving in wool, depicting stories and memories and pictures in lines into his weavings. Check him out. His work is as interesting as the silk work you described.
    Kantu

    Reply
  28. Hi Nicola,
    Really interesting read. I wanted to let you know about a master weaver, Michael Rohde. He does very intricate weaving in wool, depicting stories and memories and pictures in lines into his weavings. Check him out. His work is as interesting as the silk work you described.
    Kantu

    Reply
  29. Hi Nicola,
    Really interesting read. I wanted to let you know about a master weaver, Michael Rohde. He does very intricate weaving in wool, depicting stories and memories and pictures in lines into his weavings. Check him out. His work is as interesting as the silk work you described.
    Kantu

    Reply
  30. Hi Nicola,
    Really interesting read. I wanted to let you know about a master weaver, Michael Rohde. He does very intricate weaving in wool, depicting stories and memories and pictures in lines into his weavings. Check him out. His work is as interesting as the silk work you described.
    Kantu

    Reply
  31. It’s shocking to hear about the working conditions isn’t it, Teresa. So many of my ancestors worked in mills. It makes me feel very grateful for my own life.

    Reply
  32. It’s shocking to hear about the working conditions isn’t it, Teresa. So many of my ancestors worked in mills. It makes me feel very grateful for my own life.

    Reply
  33. It’s shocking to hear about the working conditions isn’t it, Teresa. So many of my ancestors worked in mills. It makes me feel very grateful for my own life.

    Reply
  34. It’s shocking to hear about the working conditions isn’t it, Teresa. So many of my ancestors worked in mills. It makes me feel very grateful for my own life.

    Reply
  35. It’s shocking to hear about the working conditions isn’t it, Teresa. So many of my ancestors worked in mills. It makes me feel very grateful for my own life.

    Reply
  36. Nicola, I love stripes, even tho I seldom wear them. The one exception are Breton sailor shirts, which I started wearing in college and have never given up! And my kitchen is papered in cobalt blue and white stripes, and it always makes me feel cheery! And I really enjoy learning about old mills where one can actually see the processes used, so thanks very much for the post; I will add Whitchurch to my list of hope-to-visits.

    Reply
  37. Nicola, I love stripes, even tho I seldom wear them. The one exception are Breton sailor shirts, which I started wearing in college and have never given up! And my kitchen is papered in cobalt blue and white stripes, and it always makes me feel cheery! And I really enjoy learning about old mills where one can actually see the processes used, so thanks very much for the post; I will add Whitchurch to my list of hope-to-visits.

    Reply
  38. Nicola, I love stripes, even tho I seldom wear them. The one exception are Breton sailor shirts, which I started wearing in college and have never given up! And my kitchen is papered in cobalt blue and white stripes, and it always makes me feel cheery! And I really enjoy learning about old mills where one can actually see the processes used, so thanks very much for the post; I will add Whitchurch to my list of hope-to-visits.

    Reply
  39. Nicola, I love stripes, even tho I seldom wear them. The one exception are Breton sailor shirts, which I started wearing in college and have never given up! And my kitchen is papered in cobalt blue and white stripes, and it always makes me feel cheery! And I really enjoy learning about old mills where one can actually see the processes used, so thanks very much for the post; I will add Whitchurch to my list of hope-to-visits.

    Reply
  40. Nicola, I love stripes, even tho I seldom wear them. The one exception are Breton sailor shirts, which I started wearing in college and have never given up! And my kitchen is papered in cobalt blue and white stripes, and it always makes me feel cheery! And I really enjoy learning about old mills where one can actually see the processes used, so thanks very much for the post; I will add Whitchurch to my list of hope-to-visits.

    Reply
  41. Thanks for the terrific post. I like stripes and plaids and small dots and floral chintz and ….well you get the idea. I like a lot of patterns, it all depends on color and what is the destination for the pattern. I like light colors.
    Your post made it quite obvious that there were sacrifices made in order to make fashionable fabrics. And I always find all the comments to be enlightening. It is nice to know in this group of authors and readers there are people who know so many different things and are willing to share their knowledge. Y’all take care.

    Reply
  42. Thanks for the terrific post. I like stripes and plaids and small dots and floral chintz and ….well you get the idea. I like a lot of patterns, it all depends on color and what is the destination for the pattern. I like light colors.
    Your post made it quite obvious that there were sacrifices made in order to make fashionable fabrics. And I always find all the comments to be enlightening. It is nice to know in this group of authors and readers there are people who know so many different things and are willing to share their knowledge. Y’all take care.

    Reply
  43. Thanks for the terrific post. I like stripes and plaids and small dots and floral chintz and ….well you get the idea. I like a lot of patterns, it all depends on color and what is the destination for the pattern. I like light colors.
    Your post made it quite obvious that there were sacrifices made in order to make fashionable fabrics. And I always find all the comments to be enlightening. It is nice to know in this group of authors and readers there are people who know so many different things and are willing to share their knowledge. Y’all take care.

    Reply
  44. Thanks for the terrific post. I like stripes and plaids and small dots and floral chintz and ….well you get the idea. I like a lot of patterns, it all depends on color and what is the destination for the pattern. I like light colors.
    Your post made it quite obvious that there were sacrifices made in order to make fashionable fabrics. And I always find all the comments to be enlightening. It is nice to know in this group of authors and readers there are people who know so many different things and are willing to share their knowledge. Y’all take care.

    Reply
  45. Thanks for the terrific post. I like stripes and plaids and small dots and floral chintz and ….well you get the idea. I like a lot of patterns, it all depends on color and what is the destination for the pattern. I like light colors.
    Your post made it quite obvious that there were sacrifices made in order to make fashionable fabrics. And I always find all the comments to be enlightening. It is nice to know in this group of authors and readers there are people who know so many different things and are willing to share their knowledge. Y’all take care.

    Reply

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