Evocation in three sectors of the history of Silk trade of Lyons. By Philippe Demoule.










The old mechanical looms are almost as charming as the arm looms.
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Numerous are the versions of the appearance of the silk. Confucius's book places its discovery in 2640 BC by a Chinese princess. "L'Echo de la Fabrique", industrial and literary newspaper of Lyon of June 3, 1832 asserts us that this art was invented on the island of Platis, and that the emperor Héliogabale was the first one who wore silk clothes in Europe. Be that as it may, this natural fiber was known in China from the highest antiquity.

Silk routes succeed in Alexandria where from the Arabs export precious tissues towards Europe. The Asiatics preserve jealously the secret of the breeding of the silkworm until XI-th century, date in which the Italians learn about it.

The book of Etienne Boileau's professions published between 1258 and 1268, learns us that the art of the silk was known in France from the XIII-th century.

When the seat of the Papacy, situated then in the papal town of Avignon, was transferred in Rome, Italian weavers who had lived in Avignon came to settle down in Vienna (in south of Lyon) and in Lyon in 1377.

In the XV-th century, France is far from being able to equal the Italian production of silk trades which spread in Europe and in France. Towards 1450, Charles VII forbids the custom of sheets of gold, silver and silk " others than those having the seal of Town of France ". Then, as a logical result to check this "great vuidange of gold and silver that every year makes denostre realm" due to the massive imports, Louis XI proclaims his will to introduce in Lyon the art of the silk in 1466 by granting privileges " to the workers who will come to demourer audict place of Lion to make practice ledict ouvraige and subtlety of sheets of gold, silver and silk and the other dependences ". This initiative was so badly received in Lyon where Tours was appointed to assume this role.

It is necessary to see that Lyon was above all a city of fair and trade little prepared for an industry the establishment of which is purely artificial, because Lyon will not be a producing country before XVII-th century.

In 1531, Francois Ier frees the weavers of the taxes and makes come in 1536 two italian weavers, Etienne Turquett and Barthélémy Narris. A decree declares the city of Lyon " store of all the raw and shaped silk trades " which entered France. It is in 1540 that is established the Corporation of the silk weavers, but they are there again to learn the rudiments of the profession. The Factory of Lyon will never be a big establishment comparable to the Factory of Tapestries for example, a century later, but rather a community of traders, bosses - workers and companions spread in the districts of the city. Numerous edicts try, between 1555 and 1579, to dike the luxury debauchery of the middle-class persons which forces the noble persons to show more luxury still, but royal decrees limiting the length belts and dragnets, governing the wearing of precious tissues with a surprising precision, go unheeded; " As a prince of blood, a trader cloth merchant wears the sword, walks the features hidden under a wolf of black velvet fixed by a thread of archal held in his mouth ".

After Louis XI and François Ier, it was Henri IV who gave a new impulse to the silk trade by developing the breeding of the silkworm in France to fight against excess expensive imports. One makes come to Paris Olivier de Serres whose works one knows and who claims to be able to fire " big deniers by admirable industry of the worms which vomit the quite spun silk, being fed by the leaf of meurier ". he hurries to come from the bottom of his Vivarais (south of France), escorted by his horse carrying his big studded suitcase, a marble plate for king and a bundle of fragrant plants to be distributed to the courtiers. Henri IV makes do a brochure of popularization extracted from " Théatre d' Agriculture " and makes it carry in sixteen thousand parishes, accompanied with specialists who distribute their education through France, as well as of seeds of silkworm and 400 000 feet of mulberry tree. King himself in fact to plant 20 000 in the gardens of Tuileries. It will appear afterward that the valley of the Rhone was more convenient to this culture. After the death, edicts forbid to wear silk and golden tissues and Lyon is soon ruined. In 1619, a big number of workshops is forced to close its doors and 6 000 workers are reduced to the unemployment.

Two reasons seem to explain that successive kings chose Lyon to develop there the weaving mill; first of all, this city is situated in the outlet of the valley of the Rhone which was very convenient to the breeding of the silkworm. Then, Lyon is also the door of Italy where from came to us these prestigious materials and by where passed in transit the imports.

Materials of the beginning of the XVI e century were at first only imitations of the Italian silk trades, but bit by bit appeared original creations as the lampas with lace the decoration of flowers and stylized ferns of which was interrupted with strips imitating the lace.

Under Louis XIV, the development of France allowed him to free itself from this influence. Under Colbert, the Big Factory becomes the incontested centre of the silk where are created rich materials with which like countering themselves the princes of the church and the State. Of this time reached us only few suits, most of the time destroyed to get back the gold of it whom they contained. Our patrimony textile industry consists especially of soft furnishings: velvet, damask, brocatelle in big carmine or green songs. The luxury with which surrounded himself Louis XIV made of Versailles a big show of mode observed by whole Europe. Even at the man, the dress, rich in sophisticated colours, in embroidery and in laces, was an mean current to assert his personality and her taste. The silk worker is then in full ownership of its art and its big skill, allied to the talent of the draftsmen, ends in masterpieces of a rare quality. The natural flowers are treated with most possible realism.

Under Louis XV, decorations become asymmetric with an appearance absence of order in the arrangement of the flowers of which certain, imagined by the draftsmen, are of a big whim, before the fashion of the "chinoiseries" which renews the directory of ornemanistes. At the end of time Louis XV, the size of flowers is reduced, they simplify themselves and organize themselves in bouquets surrounded with sinuous ribbons.

Under Louis XVI, the reduction becomes more marked, bouquets connected by cords are placed between vertical strips. Philippe de Lasalle distinguishes himself by his remarkable tissues with big motives intended for the French and foreign palaces.

Under the Revolution steered against the abuses of the powerful of the Church and the Aristocracy, the Factory loses a big part of its clientele and rich shaped tissues are replaced by plain tissues, decorated with embroidery.

The loom remains primitive trés for a long time before appear the loom with treadles, then the draw loom which comes to us from Italy. On this type of loom, warp yarns are raised by intermediaries of ropes activated by the draw boys. In 1470, Jean le Calabrais abolishes the draw boy by returning ropes towards the weaver, in front of the loom. Regrettably this system forbids the make of big motives. In 1620, Dangon finalizes a loom who contains 2 400 cords instead of 800. But it is during the XVIII-th century when the material asserts itself and becomes more sophisticated. In 1720, Garon perfects Dangon's loom. In 1725, Basile Bouchon (from Lyon) invents a paper drilled in the hand, which an assistant applies against the loom and which selects warp yarns. In 1733, English John Kay invents the first flying shuttle. Next year, Falcon replaces the paper drilled by Cork by a chain of drilled cards. In 1744, Vaucanson, the father of machines, the brilliant inventor of the " Player of flute ", mechanizes Falcon's loom, but this loom will remain unusable. Then, Philippe de Lasalle returns exchangeable simples and applies John Kay's batten to the loom in " la tire". Finally, towards 1804, the mechanics Jacquard loom will be given birth in Lyon by Joseph - Marie Jacquard.

The development of the Factory was rather slow. In April, 1544, the Community sends to Henri II a request to obtain the ratification of the " Regulation getting the art and factory of sheets of gold, silver and silk which will be made in the city of Lyon ". One declares while 12 000 persons are occupied to the work of the silk, false figure quoted for the need of the cause because in 1575 we find 164 velvet workers, 34 taffeta workers, 11 filleux of silk, 15 dyeers, is 224 persons, nimber to double if one takes into account dévideuses and pupils. In 1621 we find 716 bosses, 128 companions, 265 pupils for 1 698 looms, to which it is necessary to add the carpenters for the looms, the warping workers, dévideuses, tordeuses, dyeers.

The most former inventory, drawn up to Jean Dangon's death, silk boss - worker, reveals us the misery in his detail. Some rare wooden functional furniture of walnut, some domestic tools, " a jar on the fire with the lid, four spoons and two iron skimmers, a small frying pan, a small box appropriate to hold the salt, the keg appropriate to hold the vinegar, as for the linen, there were only four shrouds all broken ".

Another document, kept to the municipal Archives of Lyon, shows itself revealing as for the conditions of life of the silk worker. It is about the budget of a boss - worker, current over the year. Describing exactly the nature of the work executed on the three looms and the tasks of the silk worker, his wife and the worker, one supposes a continual work of 269 workdays at the rate of two ells three quarters of tissue a day and by loom. The account of receipts highlights a total of 1 800 pounds. The account of the spending, very precise, because it books as well the salt, the pepper as the tobacco and the furniture polish of furniture is also trés squeezed because, for the maintenance of the husband, for example, one counts a dress for eight years, a shirt, a handkerchief, a pair of bottom, other one of the shoe and resemellage a year. It highlights a total of expenditure of 2 049 pounds which exceeds of 249 pounds the amount of receipts.

When in 1554, as we saw it, the Community sends to Henri II a request to obtain a rule confirmed by bosses and companions, a distinction is done among them. The access to the profession remains free, what does not satisfy the bosses frightened by the competition of the number. So they ask in 1583 for the obligation of the payment of a tax and for the fabrication of a masterpiece for the obtaining of the title of mastery. In 1596, a regulation dedicates for the first time the narrow conception of the work organized in corporations, adding the compulsory rules of the learning and the compagnonnage.

The learning imposes on the pupil to live at the boss's, this one having at the same moment a role of professor and educator. A regulation of Colbert in 1667 indicates the duration of the learning in five years. The minimum age is of thirteen or fourteen years, but it is necessary to note that the Factory employs for the works appendices many younger children who have not pupil's status. In the contract, the boss undertakes " to accommodate and to sleep the aforementioned pupil, to feed him, to supply him fire and light, to make him clear his big linen and perfect it in his manufacturer's art in materials of silk, without hiding anything to him from what depends on it ".

It is the time of test for the young man that complies with the discipline, perfects in the profession and is penetrated with its traditions and principles. To obtain companion's title, the pupil should, in 1667 , realize the following work: " an ell of velvet or satin or damask, either brockets of gold and silver, week before the end of learning in their house or of the Community ". When the test was not surmounted, the learning was prolonged of six months or one year. If it was satisfied, the new companion was registered on the Register of the Companions, for a variable fee. He has any freedom to choose a boss and to change it if he wishes it, but the usage was " to finish the work piece which it will have begun while that it lasts ". The condition of the companions was not famous and, in 1787 , the Abbot Bertholon will write of them: " The workers of Lyon are fed and accommodated at the boss; they work eighteen hours, even more, every day, without any waste of time because a quarter of an hour, several times less, is enough for them for each of their meals ". The duration of the apprenticeship is of five years. From 1686, the masterpiece, for the obtaining of the title of mastery is defined as follows: " an ell of material on a loom ". The bosses were authorized " to disturb and to move silk and cords of the looms and the companions striving for the mastery will be obliged to all replace with the suitable diligence and the exactness ". In case of failure, the compagnonnage is prolonged of one year.

Le maître-ouvrier, lui, peut travailler pour plusieurs fabricants à condition de ne pas mélanger les fils qui lui ont été fournis. Par ailleurs il a l'obligation de porter l'ouvrage fini au "Bureau de la Communauté" pour être vérifié et qu'il y soit apposé "en tête et en queue sur une tirelle de deux pouces, les initiales de son nom, le nom et la qualité de l'étoffe, ainsi que le nombre des portées dont la chaîne est composée". Les maîtres-gardes apposent alors l'empreinte du "Bureau de visites des étoffes de soye de la Manufacture de Lyon".

The boss - worker, him, can work for several manufacturers on the condition of not mixing the threads who were supplied to him. Besides he has the obligation to carry the work finished to the " Office of the Community " to be verified and that it is affixed to it " initials of his name, name and quality of the material, as well as number of the threads of which the warp consists ". The bosses affix then the imprint of the " Office of visits of materials of silk of the Factory of Lyon ".

The manufacture, is very regulated. Quality, width, number of threads, titles of silks, nothing is left at random. This rule which can seem drastic explains itself by the fact that the Factory being a sort of collective agent of production whose all the tissues should present similar characteristics, the Corporation could not admit that the seal of quality of the whole Community can be put in danger by the only one of its members.

The Big Factory established so in the course of the centuries until do of Lyon the capital of the silk. The crises and the successive bankruptcies did not master themselves without any trouble and without sweat on behalf of the workers and the foremen. But were needed several centuries so that is born in the consciousness worker a real action group and that the anger in 1831, during the Revolt of the Silk workers, in the famous shout mutters " to live free by working or to die by fighting ", accompanied with Aristide Bruant's most famous song:

"Mais notre règne arrivera
Quand votre règne finira!
Alors nous tisserons
Le linceul du vieux monde,
Car on entend déjà
La révolte qui gronde!"

"But our administration will arrive
When your administration will finish!
Then we shall weave
The shroud of the old world,
Because one already listens
The revolt which mutters!"

But this is another long history...

Philippe DEMOULE.


If this story pleased you, please , read the second sector of this trilogy:




Création Agnès Alauzet




Création Agnès Alauzet





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Création Agnès Alauzet





















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