December 2007

Textile Designs

Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

  • 115 West 18th Street
  • New York , NY

(212) 206-7715

In the introduction to abc Textile Designs xyz , Susan Meller and Joost Elffers write, “To be original in fabric design is to make the best use of an old vocabulary.” The authors arranged the book as a visual dictionary, an alphabetical conversation between cultures, periods, and styles. Meller and Elffers took almost two thousand pattern samples from the last two centuries of mechanical printing and divided them by “families:” floral, geometric, conversational, ethnic and art movements. Within these categories, they organized the textiles by motif, color, layout, and period. They give brief notes on the context of the motifs, how the pattern evolved, how it fared commercially and other useful comments. (About “punk” themed patterns they write, “The wearer of a garment-industry-designed punk print is announcing loudly, ‘I tried to come up with my own look, but I failed.’ ”)

Flipping through the book, you get a sense of the endlessly creative ways that the “ghost artists” of commercial textile design reinvent ancient motifs. Interlocked ying-yang commas become a Japanese heraldic crest, a de-ethnicized circle pattern or a French flower shape. The layout also sets up some unusual juxtapositions - the swirling greens of the “Renaissance Look” face the hard red shapes of the “Russian Constructivist” fabrics; “Plaids: Black and White” follow “Pinwheels and Spirals.” Everyday fabrics often seem invisible; Textile Designs illuminates them. Most of the prints are gorgeous, some are tacky, funny, elegant or awful, but together they're an invaluable resource for anyone designing or working with textiles.

Reviewer: Madeleine McQuillan, FIDM Library Staff Member, S.F.