Most silk would have been imported since none of the British sericulture experiments were successful. However, Elizabeth Baker produced a few ounces of silk near Dolgellau between 1772 and 1782, probably under the patronage of Hugh Vaughan.
Osler, Dorothy, and Evans, Deborah, ‘Here we go Round the Mulberry Bush? An introductory Study to Sericulture in Silk-mix Fabric Production in North Wales in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries’, Quilt Studies, (2007), pp. 83-104; Osler, Dorothy, and Evans, Deborah, ‘The Significance of the Historic Silk-mix Fabrics from North Wales’, (forthcoming).
Possibly the greatest use of silk in Wales, other than on the gowns of the nobility and gentry was in Welsh hats, most of the surviving examples of which were covered in silk plush. Silk plush was made in England and France.
Silk linsey (brethyn fetel or fetel dau-liwiog)
Silk was incorporated into woven cloth, giving the fabric a metallic sheen. Some examples of this survive in north-west Wales, and although these seem to have been made for the gentry, for wedding dresses and as samples for show at trade exhibitions, it has been suggested that some of the dresses were worn daily. No bedgowns of this mixture survive, but several illustrations of them have a sheen which suggest that silk was incorporated in the fabric. (for example, Welsh Peasants engraved by Giuseppe Bortignoni after Richard Westall, 1799 and one of the portraits by Delamotte.
Huw Roberts, Pais a Becon, Gŵn stwff a Het silc, Traditional Welsh costume in nineteenth-century Anglesey, pp. 7; 38
Ond y mae llawer o honynt yn gwisgo stwff, o wneuthuriad cartrefol, sef metel; ond y mae yn rhaid ei gael yn dda, ac yn dlws, a’i haner o sidan cyn y bydd yn barchus. [But many of them wear homemade stuff, namely metel; but it has to be good, and pretty and half silk before it is respectable.]
Cyflwr Cymdeithasol a Moesol Merched Swydd Fon (The Social and Moral Condition of the Women of Anglesey by Cybi (Mr Robert Hughes (Robyn Wyn o Eifion), Llangybi, near Pwllheli), Y Gymraes, cyf 2, rhif 7, Gorphenhaf 1851, td. 206
References to silk in Wales
‘A mill for throwing silk was erected in the town [Holywell] in 1822, in which more than a hundred persons find employment; and at Pen-y-Maes a manufactory for the weaving of narrow silk goods was established in 1821, in which sixty looms are in operation, and about ninety persons employed.’ Samuel Lewis, A Topographical Dictionary of Wales, 1833 and 1849, under Holywell.1822
Pigot’s directory for 1822 lists only two silk workers in Welsh towns:
Roberts, Hugh , silk manufacturer, Penmaes, Holywell
Owens, John, silk weaver, Whitford Street, Holywell
1834 south Wales
The bedgown is invariably formed of what they call flannel, which is a stuff formed by a mixture of wool, cotton, and sometimes a little silk. It is often striped black or dark blue, or brown and white, with alternate broad and narrow stripes, or red and black, but more frequently a plaid of several colours, the red and black being wool, the white or blue cotton, and often a narrow yellow stripe of silk, made in plaid patterns of every variety of size and colour.
From ‘The South Wales Farmer: his modes of agriculture, domestic life, customs and character’ written in 1843, published in Alfred Russel Wallace, My Life: A Record of Events and Opinions, London, 1905, vol I, pp. 207-222