Angela began by expressing her delight at speaking in Abberley Village Hall after such a long break in meetings. It was in the old St George’s Hall that Angela had her arm twisted by Kay Ballard to give her first talk 60 years ago. This led to a career as a speaker which has taken her around the world.
Angela has also travelled as a means to further her interest in textiles and over the last 30 years has visited many countries along the Silk Route. The Silk Route is a set of many merchant routes to bring silk from China to markets in other continents. There are also maritime routes around the coasts of SE Asia and India. Her travels started after the ending of many family caring commitments meant she was free to pursue her own interests, she joined groups of other textile enthusiasts or teamed up with friends or her children
The discovery of silk is linked to myths, but it is known that neolithic man possibly harvested silk from the wild silkworm moth. The domestic silkworm moth (bombyx mori) which is native to China has been used in silk production for thousands of years. It cannot fly and the caterpillars eat mulberry leaves. The caterpillars pupate in a cocoon made of a continuous strand of silk which is kept intact by boiling the pupa before it starts to eat the silk.
Angela described her journeys to many of the countries along the Silk Route, beginning with China and Japan and then into SE Asia via Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Burma. Her travels then took her through all the mysterious ‘stan’ countries and to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Syria and Turkey. In each place she sought out fabrics, traditional clothing and learnt about many special techniques. For example the exquisite double sided embroidery from China, fabric lanterns from Vietnam, woven fishing nets and silk jacquard looms. She had brought along some examples of different techniques to demonstrate the skill and beauty of the embroiderers and weavers.
Reverse applique, wood block printing, batik and tie-dying are all techniques which Angela came across in her travels and in Burma (now Myanmar) the long stalks of lotus flowers are also harvested for their long fibres which can be woven into a coarse cloth. The wealth of skills apparent in all these countries was wonderful – so much time and application to produce precious items, for example wedding costumes in Turkmenistan, carpets in Baku, Azerbaijan, with its museum shaped like a rolled carpet and fine goldwork in Uzbekistan.
Angela’s travels also had many adventurous interludes, a flight to Everest, scary precipitous roads in the Kalash Valley, a much anticipated night in a yurt in Kyrgyzstan, missing the bus one day and everyday risks of travelling in countries that were not as clean as the west!
Sadly much has changed in many of these countries and there are a lot of political troubles making it much harder to visit - Syria, Afghanistan and Mynamar for example.
Angela rounded off her talk with an image of a gorgeous silk 1870s Norwich shawl which she inherited from her great-grandmother, Matilda Adelaide Bate. This was all thanks to the Silk Route and the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The Silk Route brought silk to France and the Protestant Huguenots were master weavers whom the edict allowed to worship freely in France. When it was revoked by Louis XIV in 1685 the Huguenots fled violent persecution and set up silk production in London, Edinburgh and Norwich and lace making in Devon.
The images below are courtesy of Angela Thompson and are subject to copyright.