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Lyon, France

City of Silk

The silk road trade between China and France dates back to the 13th and 14th centuries. Silk road trade contributed to the mercantile transformation of all of Western Europe including France. In 1466 King Louis XI chooses Lyon as the center of silk manufacture.


In 1536 two Italian merchants, Turquet and Naris, bring their silk workshop to Lyon. Turquet founded a school where Italian silk winders or spinners taught their skill to local French girls. During the 16th century, all fine fabrics travelling the Silk Road, from Asia to Europe would end up in Lyon’s warehouses.

In the 17th century, there were over 15,000 looms in this city, which cemented Lyon status as the global center for silk weaving, manufacturing and trade for over 500 years.

From 1789-1797, the silk industry is almost completely destroyed by the French revolution. By 1797 the number of people working for the textile industry in Lyon was reduced by 90%.  The advent of the Industrial Revolution changed much of Europe's silk industry. Due to innovations with spinning cotton, cotton became much cheaper to manufacture causing the more expensive silk production to become less mainstream. Silk becomes a rare luxury item.

Into the 18th century, the strength and endurance of silk industry survival was due to a combination of artistic and technical creativity of the silk designers known as the ‘Aujourd’hui’.


Thanks to the development of high fashion in the 20th century, Lyon continues to thrive but the Italian and Asian competition is fierce and many shops have closed. Today, there are still artisans committed to the values of the past, however the long history of these designers and the women who are responsible for the birth of this thriving industry have largely been forgotten.

Lyonnais 'Canuts' or silk weavers were primarily located in the Croix-Rousse neighborhood of Lyon since the 13th century.  Croix-Rousse is unique for its ‘traboules’, a series of tunnels and passageways, sheltered by rain, once used by weavers to quickly reach the waters of the Saône River where mercantile ships lay waiting for their goods. 

Jacquard Loom in Motion
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