Friday, December 12, 2014

Book Review: Textile Designs

Cover image: "Textile Designs" by Susan Meller and Joost Elffers.

Textile Designs: Two Hundred Years of European and American Patterns Organized by Motif, Style, Color, Layout, and Period by Susan Meller and Joost Elffers

This is the encyclopedia of fabric prints.  Hug it and keep it close.


What you see on the cover is basically what you get: 450 pages of fabric patterns, ranging from the late eighteenth to twentieth centuries.  The patterns are divided into four general groups (floral, geometric, conversational, and ethnic) which are in turn subdivided by more specific types, each of which has a single or double page of examples.  The commentary is minimal--no more than a paragraph per type--with the bulk of the space given over to the images.  Dates, country of origin, any re-scaling information, and a fabric description*  are included for each sample.  To accommodate the scale of the patterns, differing sample sizes are used: the smallest repeats might get a single 1" x 1" square (allowing, for instance, 36 examples of diaper prints alongside the commentary), while the largest have an entire page (8" x 10.5" image size).

*Many of the examples are from industry pattern drawings (a "gouache") and are noted as such.  Those taken from surviving textiles are be labelled with the fiber content ("cotton", "silk", "linen" "wool challis", etc.), and some of them have notes on the printing technique used (block, copperplate, or roller printed).

The examples' arrangement by design element rather than by year makes it easy to look up a particular motif if you want to evaluate a  fabric for reproduction use, or to see how a style changed over time.  I've also heard of people testing their 'period eyes' by flipping to a page and trying to pick out which examples fit the desired time period (the information is given in small margin notes, so it's easy to look at a sample without automatically seeing the date).  You will have to do some searching if you just want to browse designs from a particular year.  My copy is full of color-coded sticky notes to facilitate that.  

Stars: 5 Stars
Accuracy: High--it's a compilation of primary sources.
Difficulty: N/A  Potentially overwhelming in magnitude, but a good reference.
Strongest Impression: A very complete reference book.  The trickiest bit is figuring out which types to check when investigating a particular design, but the alphabetical table of contents helps with that.

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