Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Textile Society of America 2014 Biennial Symposium Proceedings: New Directions: Examining the Past, Creating the Future, Los Angeles, California, September 10–14, 2014,


Copyright 2014 by the author(s).


The age of global exchange began in the 16th century with the sea trade established by the Spanish and Portuguese as they navigated east and west. The Americas, with their wealth of natural resources that included silver, textile dyes and fibers, were both a supplier as well as a recipient of the goods carried along the trade routes. Archival records, ship manifests and other documents, as well as paintings from the period record the vital role that trade textiles played in this exchange, but few actual extant fabrics have been preserved.

Some 34 sets of textile samples sent with official reports from the Vice royalties of New Spain, New Granada and Peru to the King of Spain during the 18th century have been preserved in the Archivo General de las Indias, in Seville. Rarely published, and almost unstudied, they provide a glimpse into the types of textiles produced in the region under Spanish authority, and also record imports from Europe and Asian into the region. Samples include swatches of silk made in Mexico (with the Spanish-introduced sericulture), along with velvets, brocaded ribbons, and specialty fabrics with silk and metal threads demonstrating the high level of skill achieved by Mexican silk weavers. Cotton textiles are also included, both plain and printed, in the style of the Indianillas, the Mexican version of block-printed trade textiles from India. Other examples include whole sets of English woolens in brilliant colors from Colchester, England sent from the governor of Havana 1735, and other Spanish bayetas presumably to indicate what was available in the local markets.

The paper will present these remarkable documents that provide a new source for understanding of the role of the Americas in global trade of the mid-Colonial era.