Gainsborough has something of a reputation for producing bespoke fabrics for royalty. The Suffolk-based traditional weavers produced the now-iconic royal-blue silk that upholstered Charles and Diana’s wedding carriage. Since that first royal commission, its hand-loomed fabrics have become a leitmotif in stately circles. It made an off-white silk damask for Kate and William’s own wedding-day carriage, and its silk/cottons were also used extensively in the Goring Hotel’s royal suite (first picture), where Kate Middleton spent the eve of her wedding – most notably a pale-green damask weave previously found in the first-class dining room of the Titanic.
But despite the company’s royal connections and heritage-laden appearance (the 111-year-old company describes itself as a “Weavers & Dye House”) the firm of just 20 is a down-to-earth, incredibly dedicated modern specialist with a wide range of clients and over 10,000 commissions to date (from £120-£300 per metre, with a 15m minimum). Projects may have included the large-scale Gainsborough damask for The Ivy, an unusual one-off heavy-wool striped weave (second picture) for the curtains in Henry Moore’s renovated Hoglands House at Perry Green, and cotton and tweed fabrics for designers Paul Smith (third picture) and Louise Gray, but private individuals are equally welcome.
“We can weave a fabric for anyone,” says director Neil Thomas. “And we don’t just weave silk. We work with cotton, wool and linen and any combination thereof.”
The company also spins and dyes, and, where necessary, creates colours from scratch. Customers can find inspiration in its huge archive (about 70 per cent of requests are to recreate antique fabrics) – which includes the 10,000 sample hues available to commission – or can bring in colour samples to be matched (all new colours are kept on file). Jewel-coloured silk damasks (example in fourth picture) are a particular speciality – examples include a current commission of large-scale, flame-coloured orange and purple cotton/silk damask for a set of new bedrooms at The Hospital Club in London.
Once a pattern has been finalised, a CAD mock-up and small sample is created to test stitching, repeat patterns and colouring before the finished fabric is produced. Turnarounds are generally six to eight weeks.
“We fill that gap between an individual artisan weaver and large companies where orders start at 100 metres plus,” says Thomas, who encourages clients to come and see their fabrics being made. “There’s something quite romantic about seeing someone hand-weave your fabric on a loom.”