Thursday, January 7, 2016

Patterns in fashion

Pattern books revolutionize textile art and craft

Antique patterns in traditional and designer garments. 
L-R: Embroidered thobe, Palestinian, early 20th C.
Russian ensemble, embroidery and lace, early 20th C.
American designer Giorgio di Sant'Angelo, 1970
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA) has a significant collection of textile pattern books. These early examples of patterns form the basis for their current exhibit, Fashion and Virtue. Textile Patterns and the Print Revolution, 1520–1620, around which the curators have tied the past to the present.

This show focuses on patterns and specifically on  print patterns that were published to be destroyed. Not malicious destruction, of course, but the patterns were intended for use so the pages were typically torn out and used as patterns for all sorts of textile decoration and embellishment, including embroidery, lace, cutwork, etc. Consequently, not many of these pattern books exist.

It seems to me that exhibits based on books would be a challenge. A book is a unit composed of individual pages. How do you display a page or two to convey the book's value and importance? In this exhibit, the curators displayed the patterns as worked into finished items--garments, accessories, etc.

When I see patterns like this--in books (like Dover's Design Library), on objects and garments of all sorts, and in exhibits like this--I see design opportunities. For example, the print squares with a rose in the centers as well as embroidered design on the smock undergarment on display makes me think of cables. 
Embroidered undergarment,
Printed pattern
Embroidered Russian ensemble
Early 20th century
One section of the exhibit that I very much liked was one woman's collection of antique handwork fragments. Each piece was mounted with its print pattern and documentation. (I regret that I did not note her name.)

MMA is doing an excellent job of digitizing their collections and making them available online. Click here to view a selection of items in the exhibition.

(PS: The use of 'virtue' in the exhibit's title was an interesting choice. Although needlework was seen as a virtuous endeavor for young ladies after men left the craft to pursue more lucrative jobs, 'virtue' was neither the main theme of the exhibit nor the unifying thread that tied published patterns to the textile patterns.)

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