Stroke Me, Touch Me, Feel Me...

Yes - I'm talking about fabric.

I've been fascinated by fabrics since I was about 10 - when I was taught to sew by my grandmother who herself was a dressmaker in the late 20s and early 30s. It wasn't until I was in my late 20s that I discovered the world of vintage fabrics, and I've been collecting and using them ever since. It's become quite a habit, as anyone who collects them will tell you.  A friend of mine's husband refers to the cupboard that houses her stash as 'the fabric coffin'...

I started off my collection with mostly 1940s fabrics, mainly because I loved the idea of reusing something with age to it, and at the time floral fabrics were incredibly popular, and so my knowledge centered around the fabrics of that era.  I particular loved (and actually still do) 'feedsack' fabrics from the USA. 

Feedsacks are literally, what they sound like - sacks for animal feed and flour - initially made of heavy canvas being reusable, with the farmer bringing back the empty sacks stamped with his mark or brand to the mill to be filled. This changed in the late 1800s when some mills started to weave inexpensive cotton fabric. Feedsacks (or feedbags) were initially made from plain white cotton cloth and the thrifty farm wife quickly discovered that this was a great source of utilitarian fabric and could be used for dishcloths, nappies, nightgowns and many other household uses.

A fantastic selection of genuine feedsack fabric - available from Donna Flower Vintage

A fantastic selection of genuine feedsack fabric - available from Donna Flower Vintage

Soon, manufacturers saw a great opportunity and started offering sacks in various prints and solid colors as a marketing ploy to create loyalty.  For example, 3 sacks would be enough to make a dress and so the farmer would be more likely to be loyal to that brand. Bearing in mind, farming was a hard life at this time, and clothing would have always been handmade and looked after, so this was a brilliant idea. Magazines and pattern companies soon began to take notice of feedsack popularity and published patterns to take advantage of the feedsack prints. Directions were given for using the strings from feedsacks in knitting and crocheting. A 1942 estimate showed that three million women and children of all income levels in the USA were wearing print feedbag garments. 
You can usually spot a feedsack fabric mainly from the weave and the types of patterns, once you know what to look for you can spot one fairly easily. It is very rare to find a complete feedsack these days though, and most are available in small squares or 'fat quarters'. They are used these days by patchworkers and quilters due to the small pieces.

Barbara Brown

Barbara Brown

As I became more and more interested in vintage fabrics I soon realised that what I really loved was the abstract designs of the 50s, and the bright graphic styles of the 60s and 70s. These are easier to obtain as they are still used quite often, but be warned, if you are looking to collect these - some of them can be really pricey. Designers such as Lucienne Day and Barbara Brown of course top the list here, with their fabrics are rare and highly prized - usually seen at auctions fetching hundreds and hundreds of pounds.
Heals
Heals produced some amazing designs from the 50s to the 1970s. The fabrics designed by Barbara Brown for Heals are probably the most popular with their huge scale and graphic style, and carry ahefty price. My personal favourites however are the designs of Jyoti Bhomik. You can pick lengths of these up for a pretty reasonable price and they look fantastic as cushions.  I have several on my Ercol studio couch, and they look great. The colours and the shapes look brilliant in modern, vintage and eclectic interiors. Designs such as 'Verdure' by Peter Hall for Heals are also pretty easy to get hold of and affordable - although be sure what you are buying is vintage, as this design has been reproduced recently.
David Whitehead
The designs for David Whitehead in the 50s are also amazing, and I love the abstract painterly nature of them. The designers included John Piper, Terence Conran, Tom Mellor, Jacqueline Groag and Marian Mahler. These are now highly collectable, and whilst I have a few small (very small) pieces, they're generally out of my price range!

Left to Right - 'Pageant' 1966, 'Indian Summer' 1966, 'Florentina' 1965 and 'Tableau' - mid 60s all designed by Jyoti Bhomik for Heals.

Left to Right - 'Pageant' 1966, 'Indian Summer' 1966, 'Florentina' 1965 and 'Tableau' - mid 60s all designed by Jyoti Bhomik for Heals.

Left to Right - All designs by John Piper for David Whitehead - 'Tombs' 1956, 'Church Monument' 1954 and 'Abstract' 1955.

Left to Right - All designs by John Piper for David Whitehead - 'Tombs' 1956, 'Church Monument' 1954 and 'Abstract' 1955.

Left to Right - Jacqueline Groag 1951, Marion Mahler 1954, Tom Mellor 1954, Terence Conran 1952

Left to Right - Jacqueline Groag 1951, Marion Mahler 1954, Tom Mellor 1954, Terence Conran 1952

I could literally go on and on about fabric... but I think I will let these images speak for themselves. I personally think it's a small price to pay to own a little bit of design history, although I must admit, I have some particular pieces of fabric that I can't bring myself to cut into, including a precious piece from 1860. Every now and then I take it out and look at it, then back it goes, into its special drawer!

Beautiful bold 60s Borås fabrics from Sweden.  Left to Right - 'Orchid' by Saini Salonen, 'Bacardi' designed by Greta Moller, 'Rio' designed by Helene Wedel, 'Vanja' designed by Saini Salonen

Beautiful bold 60s Borås fabrics from Sweden.  Left to Right - 'Orchid' by Saini Salonen, 'Bacardi' designed by Greta Moller, 'Rio' designed by Helene Wedel, 'Vanja' designed by Saini Salonen

So - this is just an introduction to the wonderful world of vintage fabrics!  I hope you've enjoyed the read!

Wendy Gilchrist


If you're interested in vintage fabrics - here are some places I recommend you to check out.

Donna Flower Vintage - Donna is the very first person I purchased vintage fabric from. She has amazing knowledge and a wealth of fabrics. There are some on her website , but also she holds regular sales over on a special instagram page here.

Forgotten Fabrics - Richard has a great selection of fabrics mainly in the Mid-century / 70s style.  He's also a thoroughly lovely chap! Visit him here.

Rainbow Vintage Home - Rachel has a fantastic selection of 60s and 70s fabrics. Visit her here.