Hand-painted Textile Design Croquis

This week I’m highlighting an art very near and dear to my heart: creating repeating designs intended for printed or woven textiles.

Obviously this is a huge industry with millions of designs. In this post, I am focusing on the highly influential output of certain French and British studios and designers in the late 18th century and early 19th century.

William Morris’s “Tulip and Willow” Design, 1873

William Morris’s “Tulip and Willow” Design, 1873

This was a time when the market for original textile designs was booming with unprecedented force, largely due to America’s slavery-driven rise in cotton production. Therefore, the designs that came out of these studios set a standard for what is now seen as “traditional” textile designs. This aesthetic was, and is, heavily influenced by Indian designs, from where the first printed textiles were imported to Europe. Seeing immense opportunity for profitability, European designers quickly established their own studios to interpret this influence for their own growing market.

Two main changes occurred in adapting the Indian designs for the European market: First was to make the scale of designs smaller, both for the practical concerns of mass printing and because the end product had different uses; the original Indian textiles were mainly used for wall hangings or floor coverings, and therefore required larger designs. These original “printed” (usually actually painted) works were often created as non-repeating, focal-point driven compositions that suited these uses. In Europe, they were going to upholster pieces of furniture — a large motif would be cut off and create strange, unintended compositions. Therefore, smaller, repeating designs fit the bill. The second main change was including more negative space of the natural ground of the fabric. This was simply an aesthetic choice that was more in line with the tastes of the Europeans, who associated restraint with sophistication.

These two "croquis" ("sketch" in French) by British textile designers exemplify this second adaptation perfectly:

A William Kilburn design, late 1700s

A William Kilburn design, late 1700s

A Robert Hadley design from the Cooper Hewitt’s collection.

A Robert Hadley design from the Cooper Hewitt’s collection.

As much as this legacy has its problems, the artwork that came out of it is in itself something to celebrate, and certainly remains at large in the market today. In fact, there are still many companies that never create new designs, simply adapting from archives that they have acquired. An album or archive of these croquis is therefore highly valuable.

Here are some gems that I’ve gathered from some of the most famous textile designers in the age where it was still industry standard to paint croquis by hand.

Anna-Maria-Garthwaite-1733-V&A-2.jpg
Designs by Anna Maria Garthwaite, a highly successful freelance textile designer active in the silk-producing Spitalfields parish of London.

Designs by Anna Maria Garthwaite, a highly successful freelance textile designer active in the silk-producing Spitalfields parish of London.

Another work by a famous Spitalfields designer, James Leman. 1720.

Another work by a famous Spitalfields designer, James Leman. 1720.

An example of direct Islamic influence.

An example of direct Islamic influence.

"The House that Jack Built," Charles Voysey, 1929.

"The House that Jack Built," Charles Voysey, 1929.

Another pattern by Charles Voysey, an architect who was a contemporary of William Morris.

Another pattern by Charles Voysey, an architect who was a contemporary of William Morris.

William Morris

William Morris

More William Morris designs. On left, Lilies & Pomegranates.

More William Morris designs. On left, Lilies & Pomegranates.

Jean-Michel Haussman, 1797. Nearly a direct copy of existing Indian designs.

Jean-Michel Haussman, 1797. Nearly a direct copy of existing Indian designs.