Victoria Glendinning

A Stitch in Time

Portrait of a Woman in Silk: Hidden Histories of the British Atlantic World

By Zara Anishanslin

Yale University Press 409pp £30 order from our bookshop

This is the story of a mid-18th-century silk dress – and of the designer of its pattern, the weaver of the fabric, the American owner of the dress and the artist who painted her wearing it.

Not much is known about these four lives, which suits Zara Anishanslin fine, because biography is not her main preoccupation. She is concerned with patterns of production and consumption and with what ‘things’ can tell us. Through four people linked by one object, she triumphantly undertakes a complex exercise in the exploration of material culture and ‘hidden histories’, complete with socioeconomic digressions and extrapolations – most of them relevant, and most of them instructive and entertaining. 

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