Back to the main Quilters' Guild website

Part 22. Pattern Books

Part 22 - Pattern Books

The first book in this review is Philip Anthony Sykas’s The Secret Life of Textiles, Six Pattern Book Archives in North West England. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, only wish that more was published in the same vein. It is good to have such books as the V&A publications on chintzes and sumptuous silks but for textile historians such as ourselves who wish to know about the dating of the everyday fabrics found in the majority of quilts we see or own, Dr Sykas’s book covers the fabrics we need to know about, his earliest pattern book is 1790, the latest, a design archive for 1970.

This is not a chatty book: it is an academic catalogue “serving as a widely-available introduction to the material”- one thousand pattern books as the archives from defunct textile printing firms in and around Manchester. History may be Dr Sykas’s intent but it is the illustrations that make this book so valuable to us. It is a treasure trove of splendid colour reproductions of printed and woven cotton (and silk) samples, all shown in their original state stuck into books and labelled, often in charming copperplate writing, and all dated. Unfortunately, no scale is given, the reader is left to judge size diminution for oneself.

But this is not pages of samples - for that see the next book reviewed.  Each pattern book archive has been assigned to one of the four areas by Dr Sykas. So, his book begins with a well laid out Contents page, Acknowledgements and a two page Preface outlining his approach. Then the main body of the text is divided into three chapters: Records of Production, Records of Design with Records of Colouration and Records of Trade and Business. Each of these has a short essay providing Background Information, a two-page Introduction which reviews and briefly summarises the catalogue entries in the section following. These Introductions are printed on beige paper which helps break up the book visually, that said the overall design and layout are excellent: every page has more beautiful colour illustration than text. The forty-eight catalogue entries comprise individual archive groups, arranged within each section in chronological order; with a title, historical context and “most importantly, a visual record”. Some archives consist of only one item but usually there are more, e.g. Cat 29: fifty- one colourist’s notebooks. As he says “many archive groups span more than one theme and their placement within a particular section is not intended to limit their wider significance”. 

The book ends with a two-page Glossary, three pages of Footnotes and a four page Index; three pages for Names, one for Subjects.

So, you can have one hundred and forty pages of “ordinary” English printed cottons (with a couple of French interlopers) illustrated in full colour for £15.00, a brilliant addition to any textile library.

As an extra, look at to download Identifying Printed Textiles in Dress an information pack produced by Dr Sykas to accompany a workshop of the same name held in Manchester, 2007 .

The rigour of Dr Sykas’s book shows up my next recommendation. At first glance Calico Man, The Manny Kopp Fabric Collection by Bobbie A. Aug and Sharon Newman with Paul C.Kopp looks good. It features “The essence of an enormous and rare collection –over 1300 swatches from the best of this renowned collection are sustained through print, showcasing uncommon paisley and florals, Turkey Red prints, French cottons….. and other beautiful fabrics from mills in America and Europe” And the fabrics are nicely reproduced, albeit on glossy paper, Dr Sykas uses matt. And they are grouped, themed and dated but unfortunately no country of origin is given except for the French fabrics; surely Europe must include England or Scotland. So, while Mourning Prints (p 22) are referenced to Queen Victoria and are dated, none have a provenance. Another niggle is that occasionally, e.g. on pages 17 and 48, titles of a sample book (?) are given with no other details.

The book begins with Dedication, Acknowledgements and Contents, a Preface and Foreword.  The following two pages Career and Legacy of the Calico Man explains how this collection came about. Two pages on Introduction; Cloth in the Collection very briefly outline fabrics pertaining to the periods First Quarter Nineteenth Century, Second Quarter, etc through to First Quarter Twentieth Century mostly slanted to America. Then follow one hundred and forty pages of reproduced fabrics arranged in categories e.g. French Designs, Calico (eighty pages and themed rather than strictly chronological) Plaids, Stripes, Conversational Prints, Mourning Prints, Flannelettes, Indigoes, Leno Weaves, Poor Brothers’ Salesman Samples, Silks, Shirtings and Tickings. The book ends with a two-page Glossary, a Bibliography (citing English and American books) and About the Authors. Again, no scale to the samples, they look full size but it would be nice to be sure.

To sum up, this book is interesting and attractive but use with care.

I shall finish this review of pattern books with a couple of websites that also feature fabric samples; is a Australian site with thousands of fabrics from sample books to browse through, English Finnish, German, Australian, Italian, French etc. 1830s to 1920s. Type “fabric” into “search”

An American site: features their Dargate Book an early nineteenth century sample book with 2140 vintage fabric samples. Many of these have been reproduced and can be bought; they also offer snippets of textile history on a regular basis.

And finally, appertaining to nothing except Janet Rae’s article about The Amazing Mr Poodle in the last issue of Culcit , can I recommend Singer and the Sewing Machine, A Capitalist Romance by Ruth Brandon. “Women, booze, illegitimate children, fraud, bigamy, nineteenth century capitalism and the emergence of an empire…” A jolly good read, two hundred pages in paperback with Index, Bibliography and Notes, but I doubt you will ever look at a Singer sewing machine in quite the same light again! One to borrow from the library or to share with friends.


The Secret Life of Textiles by Philip Anthony Sykas is published in Great Britain by Bolton Museum, Art Gallery and Aquarium, (2005). Its ISBN is 0-90658-36-8 and can be bought direct from the Silk Industry Museum, Park Lane, Macclesfield, SK11 6TJ, phone 01625 612045. It costs £15.00 plus p&p.

Email; website I found them extremely helpful and prompt.  Or it can be bought via the Amazon website, same price/p&p

Calico Man, The Manny Kopp Fabric Collection by Bobbie A. Aug and Sharon Newman is published by American Quilter’s Society (2005) and its ISBN is 1-57432-894-8. Try or Amazon have it from £13.13 plus p&p.

Singer and the Sewing Machine, A Capitalist Romance by Ruth Brandon is published by Kodansha International (1996) originally in 1977 by Barrie& Jenkins, (London,) ISBN 1-56836-146-7. Amazon has used copies from £5.00 plus p&p.

© Brigid J.Ockelton. 2009

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.