17th Century Textiles

17th Century Textiles
January 31, 2023 Alex Daniels

Our 17th Century Textiles consist of another important period within our collection, and are especially interesting as they reflect key events from the period.

At the start of the century England were renowned wool weavers. Flourishing until the mid – late 17th century the wool weaving, spinning, dyeing and finishing trade was the financial backbone of East Anglia, where Humphries Weaving is located. The industry has left an architectural and manufacturing footprint still visible today.

Many local towns and villages on the Essex and Suffolk border boast great cathedral size churches funded by the strength and success of the wool industry. Locally made cloths often assumed names from the villages they derived from or techniques developed there. This is a tradition that we still employ today, with recent designs having names such as the Stour Stripe, named after our local river.

The weaving technology at the start of the century saw the popularity of wool plains, as seen in the custom fabrics below. Most wool was sheered locally and hand spun in a cottage industry formed by many hundreds of hand spinners who supplied the demand of hand weavers located from London to the city of Norwich.

17th Century Textiles

The Huguenots

The 17th Century textiles demand experienced a huge shift with the arrival of the Huguenots. Expelled from France due to their religious beliefs, French Protestants sought safety in countries like England. The Huguenots gathered in cities like London, Norwich, Canterbury and Gloucester. With them they brought a wealth of textiles skills, using more luxurious materials like silk and the knowledge to weave more complex figured designs.

The London weavers soon recognised the Huguenots superior skills and invited them to join the Worshipful Company of Weavers. Textiles trends experienced a shift to larger, more detailed Damask, Brocatelle and Tissues. England therefore moved from weaving wool plains to complex silk damasks in the space of a century.

17th Century Textiles

Although there are many buildings and interiors remaining intact from the 17th Century, the one element mostly lost to the rigours of time is the textiles. Rooms once filled with 17th century textiles both decorative and of practical use have deteriorated through light and humidity, or eaten by moths, leaving little to see in the original setting of this period. Most true historians and academics who know this period know that few textiles exist, let alone rest in their original places.

When you look at the 17th Century interiors that we have been involved with, true matches are practically non- existent and most rely upon house archive evidence, such as words written in inventories, recorded in purchase bills or paintings. Humphires Weaving have based restorations on this archive evidence, but also source direction from our own archive.  This can also be used to help guide decisions on creating authentic fabrics to relate to a period in time. One of the key design styles of the 17th century is below.


Baroque Design Style

One of the important design styles from this period was the exuberant Baroque design style. The style originated in Italy, with designs featuring a sense of drama and a love of the ornate. Interiors were luxurious with rich velvet and damask furnishings and gilt-wood and marquetry furniture. The style remained fashionable until about 1725.

Key characteristics of Baroque designs included scrolling foliage and decorative flowers, crests and initials, and also large scale, bold masculine shapes.


The image on the right contains the Somerton Damask for Ham House, the Kedleston for Strangers Hall and the Luino Damask for Hampton Court Palace.

17th Century Textiles
17th Century Textiles

 Key Designers

Christopher Wren (1632 – 1723)

Sir Christopher Wren PRS FRS one of the most highly acclaimed English architects in history. Wren was famous for his work in the English Baroque style, and responsible for rebuilding 52 churches in the City of London after the Great Fire in 1666. Among them is regarded as his masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral, which was completed in 1710.

In 1693 he was appointed Master Carver to the Crown. His work can be seen at various royal palaces including Kensington Palace and Windsor Castle. Here Wren created magnificent carvings for panelling, chimney pieces and picture frames.


Grinling Gibbons (1648 – 1721)

The celebrated woodcarver and sculptor Grinling Gibbons was born in Rotterdam and settled in London in 1671. Gibbons work was characterised by artistic virtuosity, exuberant style and naturalistic subject-matter. His extremely intricate limewood carvings of flowers, fruit, foliage, birds and fish embellished private houses and churches.

Important Houses

Hampton Court Palace 

Our fabrics at Hampton Court account for the best researched work relating to the reign of William III, thanks to his decision to record all the textiles at the Palace. In 1689 details were taken including fabric cuttings relating to many of the house furnishings.

The Kings inventory provided Humphires Weaving with an exceptional  colour and cloth resource, which helped us to restore the majority of fabrics seen throughout the palace. A lot of designs tended to be Italian in style, featuring strong, bold, masculine, large motifs which are a particular trend of the style. To explore these textiles in greater detail, click here.


Other 17th Century Textiles can be found at Ham House in Surrey, and the Queens House in Grenwich.

For more information about 17th century textiles, we recommend exploring the Victoria & Albert, (V&A) website.

You can also read about our 18th Century and 19th Century textiles collection here.