Monday, December 15, 2014

Book Review: Dating Fabrics, A Color Guide 1800-1960

Cover of Eileen Jahnke Trestain's "Dating Fabrics, A Color Guide, 1800-1960"

Dating Fabrics, A Color Guide 1800-1960 by Eileen Jahnke Trestain

Dating Fabrics is, as the name states, primarily a fabric guide.  Its more particular focus is on the prints (usually cotton) used in quilting. The 160-year span is divided into 20-30 year sections (each about 30 pages long); for each era, there are general notes on the period, an explanation of the contemporary color and printing technologies, and notes the popular quilt styles.  Most importantly, each section contains several pages of fabric examples.  Each page has 12 samples, in uniform 1.25" squares; within the section, they are arranged by color, and where appropriate by design as well ('shirtings', 'diaper prints and stripes', etc.).

Where Dating Fabrics stands out from other, similar titles like Textile Design or America's Printed Fabrics is in the commentary on print design trends which accompanies each section; it also discusses the fugitive nature of certain dyes, and how the appearance of an antique fabric today may differ from its look when it was new.  Compared to Textile Design, the main difference is in size (Dating Fabrics is half as long, with smaller pages), and in the divide-by-time format (which it shares with America's Printed Fabrics).  Compared to the latter, Dating Fabrics has less discussion of quilts and more fabric examples; both books date the fabrics within a 20+ year time window, which makes their usefulness variable.  As I mentioned before, pinpointing an 1845-style fabric would be difficult with this format; it is, however, easily laid out for estimating an antique quilt's age, or familiarizing oneself with the aesthetic of the era.  

The main change I'd like to see in this book is larger-sized samples for some of the prints.  The small-scale ones work fine as they are, but some of the larger prints are severely truncated, and only a small selection of those the get bigger images.

Stars: 4 Stars
Accuracy: High.  All original fabrics.  Discussion includes information about characteristic fading of fabrics.
Difficulty: N/A
Strongest Impression: Although apparently intended for quilt-dating, this book is also an excellent resource for the reenactor looking for information on period-appropriate prints for reproduction quilts and clothing.  It gives a better over-view of period textile printing and dying technology than other books I've encountered.

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