Textile Designs by Susan Meller & Joost Elffers

Textile Designs by Susan MellerThe art that is frankly decorative is the art to live with. It is, of all visible arts, the one art that creates in us both mood and temperament…The harmony that resides in the delicate proportions of lines and masses becomes mirrored in the mind. The repetitions of patterns give us rest. The marvels of design stir the imagination.

− Oscar Wilde, “The Artist as Critic


The patterns of printed cloth suggest a larger pattern that contains them – what we may call the recycling wheel, which sets the motifs of textile designs on a circular road of eternal return. Nothing disappears, and nothing appears out of nowhere.

− Introduction, Textile Designs

Never before has the world of printed textiles had a book of this magnitude and lavishness devoted to it. Covering two hundred years of European and American fabric design from the late 18th to the late 20th century, Textile Designs presents a cross section of the printed materials that decorated our rooms and clothed our bodies. Most were the textiles of the common man. The cloth of everyday life – printed calicos, flowered cretonnes and chintzes, polka-dot silks and foulards, and the myriad “imposters” hoping to pass as costly damasks, brocades, tapestries, and embroideries.

Textile Designs is illustrated with 1823 full-color examples organized by motif into more than 320 categories. Together, cumulatively, these patterns become individual words in a gigantic language of the visual imagination. This book is a kind of dictionary of that language.

In Western fabric design, the parts of speech can be divided into Florals, Geometrics, Conversationals, Ethnics, and Art Movements and Period Styles – the subjects of the five chapters of this book. And each of these broad categories, or families, have been divided into many subcategories, such as Roses and Sprigs among the Florals; Chevrons and Herringbones among the Geometrics; Bubbles and Butterflies among the Conversationals; Americana and Chinoiserie among the Ethnics; Art Nouveau and Empire among the Art Movements and Period Styles. The successful textile designer seeks not to devise something never before imagined, but to create a variation on one of these preexisting themes (Or perhaps not even to do that – a quantity of any season’s prints are frank borrowings from earlier designs.) It is the tool of the trade, the language that makes textile speech possible – why try to transcend it? So much can be said with a rose.

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