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Part 15. Textile Printing

Part 15 - Printed Fabrics

My theme for this issue is “printed textiles” and I am looking at three books that might help perhaps to widen your knowledge and appreciation of the printed fabrics we might see in quilts.

The main book of the review is Textile Designs, 200 years of Patterns for Printed Fabrics Arranged by Motif, Colour, Period and Design by Susan Meller and Joost Elffers . In many ways the title says it all: this is a sumptuous picture book of printed fabrics arranged and ordered by pattern. It has been described as “the biggest and most lavish survey of printed textiles ever published” and I cannot disagree. It is a big, heavy book and of the nearly five hundred pages, under forty are text. These include a page as Preface, one for Acknowledgements, two for Contents, two for Explanation of Terms and twelve for Introduction. This explains the fabric designers’ four families of pattern: floral, geometric, conversational and ethnic. Susan Meller has added a fifth category - arts movements and period styles which she admits has no motifs of its own but is a distinctive and recognised “look”. These families are broken down into categories with criteria such as Motif, Layout, Colour, Printing Techniques and Fabrication. This makes it sound somewhat complicated, in practice there are one or two page spreads of colour swatches for each theme e.g. Blocks and Cubes, followed by Borders then Box Layout in the Geometric section. The number of swatches varies; four or five to a page is average. Each main section has a page-long introduction plus there are two or three sentences describing each new pattern page. Also, each pattern is identified and dated with an indication of the scale of the reprint but the stunning full coloured reproductions are the stars of the show. One would never tire of looking through this book, turning page after page, the only regret is that there is not a volume devoted to each design; this large volume can only skim the surface and wet the appetite. The book ends with a two- page Bibliography, a three-page Index and the contents and brief introduction summarised in French, German, Italian, Spanish and Japanese which could prove a handy translation of some technical terms.

If you are wondering how such a comprehensive book originated, Susan Meller and her late husband based this book on their collection - the Design Library. It progressed “from quilting fabrics found in Vermont attics to important European archives”. Today their designs number in the millions, there is a website:

One helpful way of getting the chronology of printed textiles straight is to associate them with the appropriate clothing. At our BQSG visit to the York Museum store, the curator brought out several suitable dresses to allow us to make these connections. Which is why I am recommending Fabric of Society, A Century of People and their Clothes1770-1870 by Jane Tozer and Sarah Levitt. This is a book of essays inspired by the collection at Platt Hall, the Gallery of English Costume in Manchester. This museum is now I believe closed, but it was such an important resource for Laura Ashley that she wrote a forward to, and published this book.  Though calico printing was at its height during this period, the book does not focus on that alone as the chapter titles show. The book begins with twenty pages about Platt Hall and its development as the museum. Then twenty pages on Prints go through each decade, Provincial Women in the Eighteenth Century focuses on several dresses, silk and printed and a scarlet cloak. The next chapter is The English Gentleman and his Tailor, describing several suits. Then Fine Linen covers laundry and caps, Dressmaking and Millinery and Love and Marriage, The Gent, Shopping for Clothes 1770-1870, Working Class Clothing, The Seaside, and Social Events in the 1870s. These are allof a similar format; easy to read, well illustrated, ten to twenty page “essays; plenty here to help put fabrics into context. The book ends with a two-page Reading List. This is a nicely produced book, the host of illustrations, colour and black and white, combine to make a serious work attractive and memorable.

My third recommendation is really more of a suggestion to expand your knowledge of the technical side of printing. Textile Designs is expensive and is almost essential for BQSG people, so this book is at the cheaper end of the scale. It is Joyce Storey’s A Manual of Textile Printing, oneof the Thames and Hudson series of manuals. Her Introduction does say she “traces the evolution of fabric printing techniques…to the latest highly sophisticated machine-produced screen and transfer work” but as it was published in 1974 do not expect too much very modern equipment. So not so much a history of design styles but detail of the methods as the chapter headings show: Beginnings of Textile Printing, Block Printing, Copperplate Printing, Engraved Roller Printing, Lithographic Printing, Screen Printing, Transfer Printing, Polychromatic Dyeing and Design and Industry. The book ends with a nine-page glossary, one page for Further Reading and Suppliers and a three-page Index. It is very well illustrated; a few colour plates but mainly in black and white. Joyce Storey wrote this book for design students and thus makes quite complicated processes understandable. There are even patchwork fabrics illustrated!


Textile Designs, 200 Years of Patterns for Printed Fabrics Arranged by Motif, Colour, Period and Design by Susan Meller and Joost Elffers, photography by Ted Croner is published by Thames and Hudson, hardback ISBN 0500253656  (1999) and in paperback ISBN 50028653 in 2002. The price is £32.50. try

The American version of this book is called Textile Designs 200 Years of European and American Patterns Organised by Motif, Style, Colour, Layout and Period published by Harry N. Abrams, N.Y. in 1991, ISBN 0810938537, paperback 2002, ISBN 0810925087. Amazon are quoting this latter at £21.45

All versions are available second hand at prices from £18.00 (pb) to over £80.00(hb) so look around carefully.

Fabric of Society by Jane Tozer and Sarah Levitt was published by Laura Ashley in 1983, ISBN 0 9508913 0 4 at £9.95. It is now out-of-print so again compare second-hand prices before you buy, they ranged from £12.00 to £25.00 when I checked for this review.

(The Thames and Hudson Manuals) Textile Printing by Joyce Storey was published by Thames and Hudson in 1974, paperback ISBN 050068086, hardback 0500670080. Again, out-of-print but this is relatively cheap and easy to find, aim for under a tenner in a second-hand book shop.

© Brigid J.Ockelton. 2006

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.