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Part 10. Beautiful Fabrics

Part 10 - Beautiful Fabrics: Beautiful Books

I ended my last review by promising to look at three desirable and expensive fabric books and here they are. The first is Printed Textiles, English and American Cottons and Linens 1700-1850 by Florence M. Montgomery. She was Assistant Curator of Textiles at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware: this book is essentially a collation of the printed textiles in her museum and the London V&A, blossoming from two major exhibitions here in 1955 and 1960. From the early years of settlement until the mid-nineteenth century, America's textiles were largely imported from Europe and until these exhibitions and resulting research, most were thought to be of French origin. But this book traces and elaborates the English origins of these wood block, copperplate and cylinder-printed fabrics dating between 1700 and 1850. And she does so with the aid of hundreds of illustrations of stunning fabrics. Unfortunately only eleven are in full colour with a further twenty in blue or red and white but the detail and clarity of the pictures are excellent.

The book begins with a chapter on the history of English Printed Textiles. The next chapter deals with Trade with the Colonies (eleven pages) then onto Furnishings in American Homes (thirty-six pages) and twenty pages of Textile Printing in America in the Eighteenth Century. All are well illustrated, informative and easy to read. Each chapter has detailed Reference Notes gathered together at the end.

The second part of the book comprises the Catalogue, three hundred and fifty pages of Block printed Textiles (eighty three pages) China-Blue and Blue-Resist Textiles (eighteen pages) Copperplate-Printed Textiles (seventy five pages) Roller-Printed Textiles (sixty six pages) American Plate- and Roller-Printed Textiles (seven pages) and Appliqué and Patchwork Quilts (nine pages). Each section is a collection of illustrations with lengthy captions (and when relevant a numerical reference to the exhibitions) plus a linking text describing provenance and historical detail.

The book ends with an excellent-if now slightly dated in parts- Bibliography (eleven pages) divided under different sub-headings, e.g. Indian Printed Textiles, and an eight page Index.

For anyone with the slightest interest in beautiful printed fabrics, this book is essential. However, it is out of print and unfortunately the second-hand price reflects its rarity and desirability.

My next book is still available and nearly as desirable. It is Natalie Rothstein's Silk Designs of the Eighteenth Century In the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London With a Complete Catalogue - a sumptuous full colour folio sized book with slip case. There is a cheaper, smaller and briefer version available but this unabridged version has nearly five hundred illustrations, nearly four hundred in colour and is a visual feast!  Natalie Rothstein is the highly regarded Curator in the Department of Textile Furnishings and Dress at the V&A and this can be seen as her magnum opus, she began the research into the designs in 1950s but this book was not published till 1990. 

Again it consists of a few introductory chapters with endnotes, Acknowledgements, Introduction-outlining basis of the book, The Historical Background (of the silk weaving industry) Designing For Silk, The Development of Style and an Epilogue. Together these take just over fifty pages, and should be read to appreciate the main body of the book- The Designs and Silks. The Designs and Silks section is subdivided into dates: then as 1706-1716, 1717-1722, The Garthwaite Set, French Silk Designs and Pattern Books Mid -18th Century following the contents of the sample books. There follows a detailed and very useful Technical Glossary, nearly fifty pages of Biographical Index,including designers, weavers, merchants etc a brief Bibliography an Index of Colour Plates and Monochrome Illustrations and a General Index.

Silk designs changed with every season and fashion is here seen evolving from the early eighteenth century "bizarre" silks, through the lace patterns and three-dimensional effects of the 1720 and 1730s, the Rococco of the 1740s, stylisation of the 1750s and 60s to the Neo-Classicism of the 1770s. The glorious full colour glossy pictures are the actual design pages photographed along with samples of woven fabrics. All the technical details in the sample and design books have been transcribed with Natalie Rothstein's comments added, truly a complete catalogue.

The book is scholarly, detailed and rather dry but the large size and excellent quality put it in a league of its own; the introductions and technical glossary are outstanding. These eighteenth century designers and weavers deserve a wider appreciation.

Natalie Rothstein is also the editor of my last book-A Lady of Fashion, Barbara Johnson's Album of Styles and Fabrics. Barbara Johnson was a single lady from a well to do family, born in 1738 and from her early teens she collected samples of the fabrics used for her clothes. Continuing until her old age in the 1810's she stuck these in an account book and wrote details of the fabrics-name, price, amount, width and use. She also stuck in small black and white engravings, mostly fashion plates from Pocket Books, which were similar to present day diaries some with added articles and illustrations. The book she used had belonged to a George Thomson and show his clothing accounts for 1738-48. These have been transcribed, and are discussed in the sixty page Appendices

The book starts with forty pages of Introduction to Barbara Johnson, The Family and the Album, Barbara Johnson and Fashion (by Madeleine Ginsburg), Textiles in the Album, The Fashion Engravings (by Anne Buck) Topographical and other Prints (by Jean Hamilton). Then come the magnificent reproductions of the hundred pages of the album with its pinned in swatches, so life-like and three-dimensional you expect to be able to feel their texture. What a treasure-trove of information! It is a pity the introductory chapters concerning fabrics are so brief, this book appears aimed more at the fashion, rather than textile, interest. It is slightly redeemed by an excellent Glossary of textile terms. But notwithstanding, this book is unique and a worthwhile addition to anyone's library.


Bad news. None of these books are cheap but they are all top quality productions in a specialist market and I do recommend that you have a look at a copy before you pay your money. Your local library should be able to get them for you; it may be necessary to pay the out-of-county-fee. But it may save an expensive mistake or conversely give you a book to save for! I have seen copies of both Natalie Rothstein books on the shelves of the V&A bookshop.

Florence M. Montgomery's Printed Textiles, English and American Cottons and Linens 1700-1850 is published by Thames and Hudson,( London 1970), Viking Press (New York 1970). It is out of print and expensive, I found copies on the Internet at between £170 and $400(signed). Given the present favourable dollar rate it may be reasonable to buy in America but it is a heavy book to send.

Be careful: Florence Montgomery has written another book, Textiles in America, 1650-1870,an interesting dictionary but not in the same league and much cheaper. DO CHECK the title properly.

Natalie Rothstein's Silk Designs of the Eighteenth Century in the Collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum London, a Complete Catalogue is published by Thames and Hudson (London 1990) and in America by Bullfinch Press, Little, Brown and Co.(Boston 1990). ISBN 0-82212-1812-3. Amazon listed the American edition at £55 and the English at £65 but both were unavailable at present. Used copies were from £34 to £75 on the Internet. This is a large book in a slipcase, there is a cheaper shorter paperback version by Natalie Rothstein and Clare Brown at about £13.

Natalie Rothstein (Editor).  A Lady of Fashion Barbara Johnson's Album of Styles and Fabrics is published by Thames and Hudson, (London and New York, 1987).  Amazon had copies in stock at £60 but Colin Martin Books of Hull listed shrink wrapped copies "as new" more cheaply on his second-hand book website. Again a large, heavy book so check postage rates.

Next time back to cheaper fabric books!

© Brigid J.Ockelton. 2004

PLEASE NOTE - An indication is given of the availability and market price of the book at the time of writing and may not reflect today's availability and price.