Textile Delight

I have to admit it–your average 22-year-old wouldn’t jump up and down with glee when she found, in a museum, an enormous stock of textiles from all ages of history. Not being exactly “average”, I got a little giddy.

I didn’t realize that the Victoria & Albert Museum had such a lovely collection of textiles on display. Upstairs on the third (ie fourth to Americans) floor, just beside the Europe and American 19th century room, there is a place of splendor. The long, thin room is filled with rows of textile samples. They work a bit like library stacks. There are rows, and slotted into each row is an upright wooden frame with a textile sample. Each one is numbered for reference and has a label for more detail.

The textiles included come from all over the world and are as old as the 14th century (perhaps earlier–that is the earliest date I recall seeing).

My first thought was: Nicole! There are few things are lovely as 18th-century dress and textile. There were some very pretty lace and printed cotton samples. The lace is impressive mostly because of the work put into it. I found the cotton prints interesting because they all seemed to be on a white background. I probably could have spent hours going through that place, admiring the beauty of it all. I went through, tugging things partially at random. I didn’t mind what I pulled out, because it was all impressive.

Near the end of my time, I found exactly what I was looking for: some exquisite cloth of exactly the type I can see the ladies of the Affair of the Diamond Necklace wearing. I thought particularly of Nicole, of course, as she is the main character of my work-in-progress. I took some pictures for reference of my favorite ones. The result was not an unmitigated success since the room was dim. However, I think I managed to get an idea of the beauty and the color of these fantastic textiles. I wish I could share some technical details with you, but the photos I took of the information cards all turned out blurry and unreadable. Next time I stop by the V&A (and let’s face it, I’m going to go back sometime soon), I’ll try to get the little details. Until then, enjoy the beauty:

5 thoughts on “Textile Delight

  1. The fabrics you have found are lovely, however it would be very useful if you had added a caption in the pictures, so we know what they are and what historical period they belong to.

    • I’m in the process of digging up these photos and seeing if I got any of the details–you’re very correct that I should have taken it all down! I was so damn entranced with the sheer beauty and fun of it all that I’m not sure if I was meticulous as I should have been.

    • I did take photos of the information, but they’re all too blurry to read. It was dark in the museum and almost impossible to take good pictures. I knew there was a reason I didn’t add more specific info here. At least I got the lovely images of the fabric.

      Here’s what I do know: All of them were French or English from the mid-1700’s (a decade or two earlier than the Affair of the Diamond Necklace). Most of them are brocaded silk. These particular fabrics are embroidered, not printed, though the V&A collection also had a large collection of printed cotton.

  2. Divine fabrics from a decadent age. Thank you so much for the information about 3rd floor at the V&A. Can you recommend any textile/costume reference books for this period. I am trying to research a piece of what I beleive to be 18th century silk made into a girl’s bonnet. I thought it could be Spitalfields but then again it could be French silk. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    • I’m not aware of any books that would have that kind of specific information. If you’re based in the UK, I bet the V&A would be able to help you identify the fabric. They might not be able to pin it down–I noticed that some of the textiles had uncertain origins, so even the experts might not be able to tell you whether it’s English or French made. If you’re not in the UK, or not near London, a local museum might be able to help.

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