A History of Watts Fabrics - 'Gothic'

For the first in our series of explorations into our historic patterns, we are delving deep into the past for the inspiration of our ‘Gothic’ silk damask. G. F. Bodley designed the pattern in the 1870s, and the fabric has been used consistently ever since; woven in Bodley colours, it is one of our most striking and recognisable fabrics. 

'Gothic' silk damask in Sarum Red & Gold


The Gothic period provided a well of inspiration for Bodley, in both his architecture and his design. His buildings became hallmarks of the Gothic revival, and the arches and flourishes of his designs are echoed neatly in the fabric pattern he designed for Watts. The ‘Gothic’ pattern is quintessentially Bodley: seeped in architectural history, artistic legacies, and the bold innovation he strove for.


Watts’s ‘Gothic’ pattern is quite simply an expression of Bodley’s deep appreciation for Mediaeval art. Dating back to the 12th century, the Gothic encompassed centuries of artistic development. Indeed, what was once a term meaning ‘barbaric’ became integral to the history of Christian art - and even art and architecture in general.



Such art in the Gothic period was fundamentally an expression of religion and faith, designed to teach and inspire the members of the church. Originally adorning Mediaeval churches, Bodley reanimated the Gothic’s artistic sentiment in a new pattern for ecclesiastical vestments and interiors. 


The inspiration for the fabric pattern itself can be found throughout the Gothic period. Bodley based the pattern on a section in the Southwold screen, one of two surviving mediaeval screens in this country. Similar patterns can be found across Mediaeval Christian art, such as ‘The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple’ (1485) by the unnamed Masters of the Stories of Aachen. This painting in particular features as part of a 15th Century series depicting the life of the Virgin Mary. 


Excerpt from 'The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple'


Bodley pays homage to his artistic forebears in his recreation of Gothic patterns. As a result, a motif that once adorned the vestment of this Medieval figure has been worn by members of the clergy even centuries later. 


'Gothic' silk damask in Black & Gold


For Bodley, such art is a source of inspiration - but he would not consider himself bound by historic traditions. In a lecture, Bodley once said that

I can’t say I care greatly for much strictness of rule or rigid uniformity, so long as all is dignified and solemn, and, from an art point of view, beautiful.

It is dignity and solemnity that Bodley exhumes from the Mediaeval period and allows to flourish in his design; this principle of inspiration and development guided him throughout his creative endeavours. It is similarly essential for Watts & Co. today, as we continue to explore new avenues for creativity, while drawing upon the traditions and foundations of the past.


In fact, the pattern has been used consistently in Watts creations, and today remains one of our most popular choices. Seen here in some vintage Watts pieces, the grandeur and detail common to Bodley’s architecture is eminent in the beautiful simplicity of the vestments. These three copes use our 'Gothic' silk damask in gold, with orphreys of velvet.


Three copes made with 'Gothic' silk damask, from our archive.


Perhaps its most special commission was for an altar frontal presented to Westminster Abbey by Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of her coronation in 1953. Using a blue colourway, and featuring orphreys of floral embroidery, the frontal is really one of a kind, and is a splendid piece of ecclesiastical furnishing. The history imbued in the ‘Gothic’ design was perfect for the celebration of such an historic occasion as the Queen’s coronation - and has since been used for special services held at the Abbey.


Image of Westminster Abbey using an altar frontal - made with our 'Gothic' silk damask in blue.


The frontal is pictured here at an ANZAC day service in Westminster Abbey - incidentally, alongside some copes featuring our blue and gilt ‘Bellini’ silk damask. 

In a way, Bodley’s designs mean that the history of Mediaeval religious art can live on in the ecclesiastical garments made today at Watts & Co. The reverie, faith, and dedication at the heart of Gothic art reveals itself in these patterns, and will always carry a special significance for those who wear them.

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