Sunday, January 31, 2010

Quilt Exhibit at the Victoria and Alberta Museum in London

This spring there will be a spectacular quilt exhibit at the Victoria and Alberta Museum, Quilts 1700-2010. For those of you lucky to attend this event and extra time in England, I have a recommendation.

The Secret Life of Textiles, Six Pattern Book Archives in North West England
Phillip Sykas, 2005

Pattern books were compiled by many English textile firms during the 19th and early 20th centuries. A 1998 survey found thousands of these treasures in the museums and libraries of North West Britain. I recommend Mr. Sykas' book as a guide. Then get out the map and make an appointment.  For those of us who are 'armchair' travelers, the book itself is a wonderful source of historic design and style.

Unfortunately, this title is out of print. I was unable to find it used on Amazon, nor Powell’s but World Cat shows 75 libraries with this holding. A number are in the US--California to Virginia, one copy in Australia, 2 in New Zealand and 3 in Canada plus 15 copies in British libraries

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Little Pink Stars

My next reproduction line of fabrics, Little Pink Stars, will be with the new company, Blue Hill Fabrics. The inspiration for the line is a quilt made by my friend Bette Faries.

She lived in the Tidewater area of Virginia in the early 1970s. While shopping for Blue Flow china at local antique stores, Bette started to pick up quilt tops and blocks. Always fond of pink, she chose pieces that contained classic double pinks but were damaged or poorly sewn. Bette took everything apart, saving the good parts. 

Bette's quilt, entirely hand pieced and hand quilted, contains 432 mostly pink star blocks with a sprinkle of other colors: lights, taupe/tan, warm browns and several Indigos.

The background fabric is a 1980s broadcloth, all the stars are antique fabrics, 1840-end of the century.

My favorite pieces are the delicate trumpet flower mill engraving along with a classic 1850-1900 pad and cover double pink.

 Bette, an inspiration at 86 year of age, still has a small pile of 19th century double pinks and is currently working on small 9-patches for a full size quilt.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Indian textiles were integral to the 3 part overseas trade established by the British East India Company early in the 17th century. English products were loaded in London onto ships whose first stop was the trading centers of India. Here the English purchased cotton textiles for trade with the inhabitants of the Spice Islands. The ships leaving Java and Sumatra were laden with nutmeg, cloves, mace and pepper as well as few cottons. These fabrics quickly became a large part of the trade for all the European countries trading in the 'East'.  The selection included painted and printed calicos and chintzes and numerous woven solids, stripes and plaids.

The Dutch were the first to charter an East India Company in 1597, followed by the English in 1600, the Danes in 1616 and the French, under Colbert, in 1664.

In the fall of 1685, a French diplomatic delegation with many gifts visited the King of Siam, Phra Narai. The following year three Siamese ambassadors came to Versailles also laden with presents, including textiles.  It was the dress, garments of beautifully woven cotton stripes, of the diplomats that caught the fancy of the French court and they were soon imitated. Know as siamoises, these fabrics were first a mix of cotton and silk, later a linen warp with a cotton weft.

Examples of beautifully woven stripes. The red stripe is 10% linen/90% cotton; the olive-green version is all cotton.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Art of the Mughal Court

The high end customers for the skilled Indian textile craftsmen of the 17th century were often the royal courts of India. Golkonda in central India and the Mughal empire, an Islamic power than began (Classic period 1556-1707) in the northern regions and slowly extended its control southward.  The last Mughal king was exiled by the British in 1857.

The early floral borders of Persian minatures contained rather stylized blooms. The introduction to the Mughal court of European herbals and Flemish engravings with borders containing detailed and natural looking irises, narcissi, tulips, poppies and of course, roses along with the famous flower gardens of Kashmir lead to the popularity (especially in the decade of 1620-30) of floral motifs in marble and jade carvings, woven silks and carpets and 'printed' on cotton fabrics.

Section of a Tent Hanging or Curtain, late 17th century

                          Plain weave cotton, painted and treated with mordants, resist medium and dyes

Friday, January 1, 2010

Day Book

One of the antique fabric sample books I own is a Day Book, meaning each page has a specific date and samples of that day's mill production. I thought today--the beginning of a new decade--would be the perfect time to look at samples of fabrics that were printed in America at the beginning of a new century, January 2, 1900.  Happy New Year!