Hope/L’éspoir

http://twainjewellers.com/product-detail/?id=75 The temperature here is 37C as I write, the weather set to continue until September after four months of dry, searing heat. Small tractors are now plying back and forth through the village, their trailers loaded high with grapes, making for the utilitarian cooperative vat at the end of the road out of the village. The grape harvest looks to be down this year, as rainstorm after rainstorm has, Tantalus-like, skirted around the village and passed us by, leaving the ground dry as dust. The roads from here to Avignon are lined with vineyards as far as the eye can see, and innumerable caves invite the tourist to taste and buy – worrying times for vineyard owners.

http://wbbc.ca/tfr-vwf-833-rvkeu/1067/80/mvg-/ksg/-253-478/.yst The Cotes-du-Rhone appellations are, of course, a mainstay of this area, together with significant recent growth in tourism. The once highly lucrative textile industry is, however, no more. While further north and west the wetter climates were more conducive to the production of linens (flax and hemp being the two textile-crops most commonly grown here), the predictable early summer warmth of the south aided the growth of the silk industry. Some 86% of French home silk production was recorded from this area in 1938.

buy Fincar online It was, however, in the farmhouses of the Cévennes that the raw material of the silk industry was produced, in the large, airy rooms known as magnaneries, where the sun’s heat and ventilation by the dry mountain winds enabled the silkworms to be farmed. Fattened on the leaves of the white mulberry tree (morus alba), they would consume many times their own weight in leaves before climbing into the special twigs set up for the purpose, where they would spin their white cocoons. Some cocoons were left to mature, the chrysalis metamorphosing into the silk moth, living only to reproduce and lay eggs for the next generation; the majority of cocoons would be collected and heated to kill the pupating moth inside before the process began. Eventually between 300 and 900 metres of silk filament could be drawn from each cocoon.

In nearby Uzès there once stood as many as six silk mills, the surrounding villages, such as the one in which I live, actively produced silk cocoons fed on mulberry leaves cut from the trees which still survive in and around the area – 4,000,000 mulberry trees were planted in Provence and Languedoc between 1554 and 1606! Duncan’s painting studio is in part of what was once a magnanerie built above the original roofline of our village farmhouse, with the tell-tale additional small windows set high to create a through-draught, necessary ventilation for the hundreds of silkworms placed on stacked wooden racks. In an area as poor as this then was, there was also a ready population of local girls and women available to work in such intensive silk-worm production; what they brought home was the first sum of money earned in the year and was a welcome boost for families which had eked out their own produce and cash over the often harsh winter. Work in the filatures (spinning mills), which are also a feature in nearby villages such as Lussan, would provide further income for hard-pressed families, and women and girls would leave their homes to sleep in dormitories, the surviving photographs (courtesy of the silk museum in Saint Hippolyte) suggesting the hardships and privations which they experienced.

Since its inception in the reign of Henri IV, the French silk industry suffered problems including disease (investigated by Louis Pasteur, no less) and the influx of Chinese silk flooding the market through the British colony of Hong Kong. But it was finally the invention of nylon in 1938 which brought about its final demise, although there were governmental incentives and subsidies to encourage it until the last mill closed in 1965. Regional silk production is, however, now being revived, albeit on a micro scale, to produce trimmings for the couture industry.

My worked piece, “Hope” / “L’éspoir”, was inspired by the French silk industry. It is a sewn meditation on the lives of the generations of girls and women from hereabouts who worked in village houses such as my own, to produce the silk cocoons and thread used in the manufacture of the magnificent silk brocades produced in Lyon. Starting with the idea of a kite flying high on the wind, then falling from the skies, the form and meditative, sashiko-inspired stitches suggest the different stages of silk production, mulberries and the Cévennes landscape. The inlaid silver thread suggests the significant revenue it made for this region of France. I used scraps of silk crepe de Chine, sewn onto a silk organza background, and various single wound threads of  vintage silk and embroidery floss in the construction, and a silver metal thread was couched centrally. The piece measures 30cm x 43cm, set on the diagonal, as shown.

If you are in the Uzès area, a drive to the silk museum at Saint-Hippolyte-du-Fort is certainly recommended – the wild, unspoilt beauty of the Cevennes is not to be missed, nor the bright, modern museum with active displays and guided tours (See www.museedelasoie-cevennes.com for details). And we were allowed to take our cocker spaniel, Millie, around with us, too!

 

 

“Even if the hopes you started out with are dashed, hope has to be maintained.”

Seamus Heaney
(died 30/8/2013)

2 thoughts on “Hope/L’éspoir”

  1. Nice piece.

    I’ve been to the silk museum at Saint-Hippolyte-du-Fort . What I remember most was how noisy the silkworms were when they were eating – I didn’t expect that!

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