This silk bookmark was made by the workshop of Thomas Stevens to commemorate the 1866 Yorkshire Fine Arts and Industrial Exposition. From the top down, the bookmark shows the coat of arms of the city of York, an image of the pavilion built for the exposition, a portrait of the Mayor of York, James Meek, and an image of the ‘multangular tower’ which is a landmark in the city wall.
Thomas Stevens was a weaver from Coventry, England, who developed a pattern making process to weave pictures in silk in the mid 19th century after the silk industry of Coventry had collapsed. These silk woven pictures became known as Stevengraphs. Finding a lucrative market in stationers and bookshops and a growing demand for souvenirs, Stevens opened two factories in Coventry in 1875 and 1879 for his company Stevengraph Works, producing silk postcards and bookmarks. Stevengraphs allowed for remarkable detail in woven images, such that even the Roman and Medieval masonry of York’s ‘multangular tower’ are discernable in this commemorative bookmark.
The ribbons were made using the jacquard technique—assigning a punch card to each row in a Stevengraph pattern that would manipulate the weaving sequence on the loom. A bookmark about thirteen inches long could require as many as 5,500 cards.
A description of the Jacquard loom as modified by Thomas Stevens was published in the North British Daily Mail of 25 October 1888:
“Mr. Thomas Stevens has a rather peculiar looking Jacquard loom, which is constantly attended by a crowd of onlookers while at work. It weaves, in silk, portraits, book-marks, pictures of the Exhibition, and other pictures. These pictures and portraits are woven in strips of about six inches broad, of which twelve are woven at one time, and the speed with which the pictures seem to grow under the fast ‘click click’ of the travelling shuttle is always a matter of astonishment to visitors.”
Tara Mishkovsky is currently working as an intern the Textiles Department and is a recent graduate from the University of York, United Kingdom where she received an MA in Medieval Archaeology.
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Godden, Geoffrey A. Stevengraphs and Other Victorian Silk Pictures. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, Jan 1, 1971. (p. 21)
Lynes, Alice. Thomas Stevens and His Silk Ribbon Pictures. Coventry City Libraries: Local History Pamphlets No.2