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TEXTILE PATTERN BOOKS WITH WOOL SWATCHES
European (probably English), ca. 1815–30s

Pattern books were an important business tool for both manufacturers and salesmen in the textile industry in the nineteenth century. Already widely used in the eighteenth century, such compendia served a variety of purposes: recording the development of individual designs and trends, the inventory of patterns ready for production, orders completed by warehousemen or shippers, and the selection of goods available to customers. As documents, pattern books reveal a wealth of information about textile design and changing taste, technology, manufacturing, and commerce.

These two books, dating to the early decades of the nineteenth century and containing over 1,000 swatches of very finely woven wool furnishing fabrics, present a staggering array of patterns and weaves. The swatches are glued to pages specially printed with blue border designs of stylized foliage-and-pearl motifs and overlapping semi-circles surrounding blanks and letter plates. This decorative presentation indicates that the books were probably used by salesmen to elicit orders. The handwritten numbers that appear in the margins of the pages or on small paper labels affixed to some samples are not always consecutive; rather than stock numbers used on a short-term, seasonal basis by warehousemen, they would have served as references for salesmen.

All of the designs—some of which change in minor details only—feature stripes, either alone or in combination with geometric shapes such as diaper, zigzags and chevrons; floral and foliate motifs; or flame-patterned ikat. The pristine colors include subtle shades of beige, blue, peach, and pink; bright red, green, yellow, orange, and purple, often juxtaposed with black and white; and deep blue and plum. A number of designs have multiple colorways. The samples are grouped according to pattern, color and/or weave structure and identified in a mixture of primarily German and French terminology. Weisbodige Croisé (white ground with crosses) describes a selection of swatches with alternating white and colored chevron-patterned stripes. Under the heading Rothbodige Köper (red ground twill) are swatches with alternating wide bright red and narrow yellow, green and black stripes; Jacquard Ramagé (branch motifs) refers to multicolored swatches with wide and narrow solid stripes alternating with delicate, stylized trailing floral vines. Geflammte blau & rothbodige Köper (blue and red ground flame-patterned twill) applies to red and blue warp-dyed stripes, while Atlas Croisé (satin with crosses) refers to solid, satin-weave stripes alternating with bold chevrons. The occasional use of the term Cuttni in the pattern books is intriguing—it describes multicolored swatches with fine diaper or lozenge patterning. In seventeenth-century India, Cuttanee was a mixed silk-and-cotton export fabric, often striped and sometimes interspersed with flowers. Among the various techniques including supplementary warps, float patterning, diamond twills, and damasks, the most interesting are those with chevrons: plain weave with resist-dyed warps (ikat), satin damask and plain weave with floats of supplementary warps. While most samples are entirely wool, some have fine, narrow gold warp stripes that add a hint of glitter.

 
 


Several factors in the books' organization and their contents point to an early-nineteenth-century English origin. The ornamental layout is a type developed around 1800 in Manchester, an important center of the English printed cotton industry, and the swatches here relate stylistically to surviving printed cotton samples of about 1815 to 1820. Additionally, a significant community of German merchants was established in the city by the 1810s, which may explain the hybrid language of the headings. However, the exclusive use of wool in these books could indicate Norwich—a well-known area for the production of woolens—as a feasible source of manufacture. References to “Jacquard” suggest that the books were most likely assembled in the 1820s or 1830s. Introduced in France in 1801 by Joseph-Marie Jacquard, this significant technological development utilized a series of punched cards to manipulate the warp threads and allowed for highly complex weave structures. Although documented in England in the late teens, the Jacquard mechanism was not widely used there until the 1820s and after. Finally, since these are merchants' sales books, it may well be that the swatches represent the output of more than one mill, a possibility supported by the variations in the fineness of the weaving and fabric weight

In their overall aesthetic, the patterns relate to both Western and Eastern traditions. Norwich worsted wool fabrics from the mid- and late-eighteenth century show similar combinations of plain and figured stripes, while the ikat technique of resist-dyeing was imported into Europe from the East. Some of the samples in these books may imitate a type of Indian cotton-and-silk tie-dyed fabric known as mashru, characterized by ikat stripes. Between their plain blue paper covers, these books with their myriad, colorful swatches are an impressive testament to the inventiveness and skill of early-nineteenth-century designers and weavers.

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