Thomas Wardle was an influential silk dyer with a particular interest in Indian wild silks and natural dyes that influenced his experimentation with dyeing processes and materials: he worked with tussah silk produced from wild silk moths instead of the cultivated bombyx mori, domestic silk moth. Along with his wife Elizabeth, a talented embroiderer, he founded the Leek Embroidery Society in Staffordshire in 1879-80. 

Wardle worked alongside several key members of the Arts & Crafts movement, including William Morris, and he developed a range of ‘Art Colours’ for Liberty, using natural dyes in opposition to the bright aniline dyes that were in fashion.

Oscar Wilde was a key proponent of Aesthetic Dress. At a lecture in 1884 he spoke of Thomas Wardle in Leek, saying, “in no town in England was a greater work being done in the cause of decorative art”.

Silk 2A
This sample of Leek embroidery shows many typical characteristics. The fabric is a natural beige coloured tussah silk from India, which was the usual fabric of choice for Leek work. The embroidery thread is dyed in a range of natural shades, and the designs were often inspired by Indian, Chinese and Persian textiles. This pattern has some similarities with the embroidery found on Chinese sleeve bands. c.1880-1890
Uncut embroidered dress front, pockets and collar on tussah silk, created in India or Pakistan for the European market. c.1890