Monday, 8 October 2012

Research Point: A textile piece from home

For this research point I have chosen an above the knee A-line dress with sleeves gathered to bands at the wrists, made for a 4 or 5 year old girl. It is made of printed cotton. There is a narrow rounded collar and small gathered applique pocket, and these and the cuffs are decorated close to the edges with white daisy chain edging.

This is the printed cotton the dress is made from.

The dress was made in the 1960s, and has been in the family since it was made in the mid-1960s from fabric bought then. I believe my mother made it. I don't know who designed the fabric, but having done a bit off internet research I think it may have been Pat Albeck.
Pat Albeck's website

She worked as a fabric designer for John Lewis, and others, from the 1950s until the present day.
Two of her 1960s designs are shown below.
Pat Albeck - Daisy Chain
A very popular design for John Lewis,
inspired by William Morris designs

Pat Albeck - Italian Garden fabrics
for Osman Fabrics, inspired by
Botticelli's Primavera
The similar colours, style of leaves, and attention to natural detail of the flowers, make me think that she may have been the designer.

The fabric is thick printed cotton, more upholstery weight than dress fabric. I don't know what technique would have been used, but presumably it was made by machine for the quantities sold at John Lewis for example. I am hoping to be able to tell more about printing techniques when I have done that section of the course!

The dress itself was made by hand at home, which is apparent from the back stitch used for the seams, and the hand gathering at the wrists and the top of the pocket. It was made as a party dress for my sister, and was then worn by myself and my younger sister, as well as my two daughters. When they grew out of it I did not want to throw it away, so used the fabric in a small patchwork quilt that my family use every day.

What it tells me about the maker: this fabric was probably not cheap. The print uses more colours than most dress cottons of that time (which I believe used 2 or 3 at most in general), and the fabric was good quality to last through two generations of children. While it was only a small piece needed to make such a small dress, this implies that she had some disposible income. Also that she had the time to make a dress rather than buy one off the peg as was usual in that period. Despite its thickness she chose it to make a child's dress, indicating that she liked the fabric, to the extent that this overrode practical considerations. It may have been that the references to the pre-Raphaelites and William Morris in the pattern also referred to an idea of craftsmanship that appealed to her. These, and her amateur skill in dressmaking imply that she came from a class of women who were able to stop working when they had small children.

What do I particularly like about this piece. The fabric is the appeal for me. Particularly the lack of a white or primary dominant colour (considering it was a child's dress); the attention to natural detail and variety in the flowers (see below for William Morris and Renaissance versions of the same stylistic idea - all repay looking at them in larger magnification); the way the leaves and stems make the texture of the background; and the way the flower heads are all of similar size and intensity of colour, so that from a distance it looks like geometric lines of bright circles.

William Morris fabric

Sandro Botticelli Primavera
l'Uffizi, Florence

The Adoration of the Magi
William Morris Co
Hermitage, St Petersberg

Another section of the fabric of the dress.

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