The art of silk-weaving was still a mystery in fifteenth-century Britain and silk was therefore imported from the Continent. Consequently it became a symbol of status and luxury. However, silk did become more popular and more readily available to everybody, being sold in fairs and markets in Wales, especially around the ports. Silk yarn was also used to decorate the clothing of the wealthiest people and in tapestries. See an example of silk woven in Italy in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The poems are full of references to silk. One of the older Welsh words for silk is pali, a type of silk with embroidery. The word was borrowed from French, as were many textile terms of this period. Guto received two purses, one from Rhisiart Cyffin and the other from Catrin daughter of Maredudd of Abertanad, and both of the purses are described as being made of silk. The purse he received from Rhisiart Cyffin was of pali: Blaenrhodd o bali unrhyw ‘Choice gift made from silk of the same quality’ (poem 58.39). It is also described as ‘Cheapside silk’ (poem 58.53), a reference to a famous market in London which sold luxury imported textiles and goods. The descriptions of the purse he received from Catrin daughter of Maredudd are similar; this purse is of silk (poem 87.58) and is described as coffr sirig ‘a silk coffer’ (poem 87.20). Sirig is another word used for silk.
Silk costumes are also mentioned in the poetry, probably meaning garments decorated with silk embroidery or with borders of silk material. Evidently, the use of words for silk became a topos to denote high status, hand in hand with other expensive materials such as velvet.
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