My love affair with Anna Maria Garthwaite began on a cold winter day in Spitalfields, East London. I was walking on air, excited by having just visited for the first time the very address at which my ancestors had started, nearly three hundred years ago, the silk weaving company that is still run by my family today.
Just a few yards along on the corner of Princelet Street I noticed the blue plaque that reads: Anna Maria Garthwaite 1690 – 1763, designer of Spitalfieds Silks, lived and worked here. I was intrigued to discover that Anna Maria was probably the most celebrated textile designer of the eighteenth century whose silks were sought after by the nobility in Britain and America. She was noted for her naturalistic, botanically accurate designs and said to have ‘introduced the Principles of Painting into the loom’. It was thrilling to realise that my ancestors would have known, and very probably worked with this remarkable woman.
The Victoria & Albert Museum has nearly a thousand of Anna Maria’s designs in their collection and I fell in love with her extraordinary and beautiful artistry. I also read everything that the acknowledged expert, Natalie Rothstein, the late curator of textiles at the museum, had written about my new heroine.*
Very little is known about Anna Maria’s personal life. Not even Ms Rothstein was able to discover how a talented teenage artist learned the highly technical skill of designing for silk or how a single middle-aged woman managed to develop such a successful business in a largely male-dominated industry.
It is these mysteries that have inspired my latest novel, The Silk Weaver, published by Pan Macmillan on 26th January.
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