David Whitehead Limited: printed textiles from Lancashire


When I started collecting vintage fabrics in the early 1980s, they were, unsurprisingly, abundant and cheap. One of my first purchases was a length of David Whitehead’s ‘Flowerpots’ designed by Tom Mellor in 1954. This spun rayon fabric became kitchen curtains in my first house.  In 1993 my home town of Oldham was the location of a major exhibition of the work of this Lancashire firm. The exhibition took place in Oldham Museum and Art Gallery and was curated by Alan Peat who wrote a a useful little catalogue to accompany the exhibition. (1) The show brought together a collection of the company’s output – which helped to reinforce my appreciation of David Whitehead textiles. For me, the appeal relates to the company vision that emphasised modern designs at affordable prices. I have been buying, and more recently selling David Whitehead fabrics ever since.

David Whitehead Ltd was founded in 1927 as a subsidiary of the Whitehead Group (founded in Lancashire in 1815). Pre-war production was generally conservative in nature, but post-war investment in modern machinery provided the potential for greater volume production and the company’s emphasis on contemporary design resulted in extensive and positive press coverage.

It was the appointment of John Murray in 1948 that we see the emphasis of David Whitehead Ltd move decidedly towards modern contemporary designs. He introduced the trade name ‘David Whitehead Fabrics’ in a new modern typeface and invested in a campaign of advertising to publicise the company’s new approach to design. Murray was very critical of the current Manchester textile trade, christening its products as ‘Manchester Monotonies’ and was determined that Whitehead fabrics would be different and appeal to young consumers who wanted bright modern patterns. (2)

The company commissioned designs from young freelance artists and designers. However, they were not alone in this practice, several companies had been doing this before the war – Morton Sundour had a subsidiary Edinburgh Weavers, who had produced the work of a number of artists in the 1930s (including Ben Nicholson and Barabra Hepworth), Warner & Sons and Heals had also done the same. In the 1940s Ascher had commissioned designs for silk head squares and fashion fabrics from a number of artists, including Henry Moore and Matisse. But what marks out David Whitehead’s products was their relative affordability. Murray wrote an article in Design in 1950 – ‘The cheap need not be cheap and nasty’ – where he noted that good design tended to be available at a price, but  ‘My own firm, on the other hand, caters primarily for those vast sections of humanity in which the emphasis is on cheapness and serviceability’. (3) This was made material in the twenty designs chosen for the Festival of Britain in 1951, including work by Conran, Jacqueline Groag and Neville Walters. Modern, bright and practical these fabrics represented the post-war optimism promoted by the Festival.

When Murray left David Whitehead in 1952, he was replaced by the architect Tom Mellor who continued to push the modern, contemporary credentials of the company. He sought out artists who would provide ‘design ideas’, for example, Henry Moore and particularly John Piper who became an important contributor. The work of both artists was adapted for production by the David Whitehead Design Studio.

Rather than buy a painting outright, David Whitehead purchased the right to produce the picture as a textile. Horrockses Fashions adopted a similar approach to its artist-designed fashion fabrics.

This approach saw its apotheosis at the 1953 ‘Painting into Textiles’ exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art. The Ambassador magazine sponsored the show, commissioning paintings from twenty-five artists and inviting textile firms to purchase a painting and produce a fabric inspired by it.  David Whitehead bought work from six designers – including William Scott, Paule Vézelay and Henry Moore (see above).

Other names who designed for the firm in the 1950s include emigres, Marian Mahler and Jacqueline Groag, several of their designs were printed on spun rayon, which was cheaper than cotton.

Roger Nicholson, John Feldman, Robert Tierney also provided designs. The Sweden-based artists Cliff Holden, Maj Nillson and Lisa Grönwall, known as the Marstrand Designers sold work to Whiteheads.  Maj Nillson’s 1959 design ‘Haddon’ and Cliff Holden’s large-repeat pattern ‘Solstice (1961) are both printed on cotton and represent the bright bold patterns that David Whitehead became so well known for.

Although many of the designers and artists who sold designs to David Whitehead are acknowledged on the selvedges of its fabrics, the company’s in-house, anonymous studio designers were responsible for many of its successful, modern designs.  See the designs and advertising images below.

The practice of working with artists and up-and-coming freelance designers continued throughout the 1960s, although Alan Peat argues that the promotion of the brand was less successful than in the previous decade. Jane Daniels’ name appears on several fabrics of the late 1950s and 1960s, including her 1960 pattern ‘Bologna’ and Campanile (nd) both of these are very painterly designs. Another design which relies for effect on the painter’s palette is ‘Sea Holly’ by Helen Dalby from 1960.

Comparison of prices with other companies is quite difficult. For example, hand-screen printed designs on cotton by Lucienne Day for Heals, in 1951-2 (‘Flotilla’, ‘Calyx’, ‘Allegro’ and ‘Mobiles’) sold for 31 shillings and 11 pence per yard. A design titled ‘Great Reed’ by Hans Tisdall for Edinburgh Weavers was 32 shillings, while an artist-designed hand-screen print by Louis Le Broquy for Whitehead’s was 28s 11d – so, only slightly cheaper. (4) Value for money becomes more significant after the company introduced automated screen printing in 1957. Dan Johnston reflected on the success of David Whitehead in an article in Design March 1958, he notes that to begin with patterns were printed using mechanised rollers which involved considerable initial costs to have the rollers engraved and therefore long runs were essential. The relatively high-cost hand-screen printing that Whiteheads also used allowed for more experimentation. After the introduction of rotary screen printing the company were able to offer new designs at prices of between 9 shillings 11 pence per yard and 12 shillings and 6 pence per yard. In addition, the process allowed for shorter production runs and more designs. (5)

In the 1993 exhibition catalogue, Terence Conran wrote of the importance of the firm to young designers: ‘David Whitehead and its executive Dr John Murray saved my professional life in 1949 by buying some of my textiles designs; they did the same for a few other designers who could find no outlet for their creative energies’. (6) The Whitehead group was taken over by Lonrho in 1970 and it’s heyday as an advocate of young talented designers was over.



  1. Alan Peat (1993) David Whitehead Ltd: artists designed textiles 1952-1969, Oldham Leisure Services
  2. Peat p.11
  3. Peat, p.13
  4. House & Garden, February 1952
  5. Dan Johnson ‘Leadership Reasserted’,  Design March 1958, p.111
  6. Peat, p.7

Further Reading

  • Lesley Jackson (2002) Twentieth Century Pattern Design: textile and wallpaper pioneers, Mitchell Beazley
  • Alan Peat (1993) David Whitehead Ltd: artists designed textiles 1952-1969, Oldham Leisure Services
  • Geoffrey Rayner, Richard Chamberlain, and Annamarie Stapleton (2012) Artists’ Textiles: Artist Designed Textiles 1940-1976, Antique Collectors’ Club
Posted in Artist and Designers, Textile Designers, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘The Textile Studio’: training designers and selling textile designs in the 1950s


My friend Julia (an antique dealer) recently came across and interesting auction lot which consisted of a collection of textile designs, watercolour sketches, letters and pamphlets from the mid-1950s. (1) They all seem to relate to one source, a company called ‘The Textile Studio’, based in Harrow, Middlesex. Intrigued, I set out to try and find out more…

The Textile Studio seems to have been a company that sold designs to the textile industry and trained individuals in design via a correspondence course. It advertised its training courses in various art magazines, including The Artist and The Studio. The business was founded in 1932 by David West and he describes himself, in his pamphlet ‘You can make money by designing floral printed textiles’, as someone with ‘39 years professional experience in the Furnishing Fabric Trade’. (2)

The surviving material seems to have come from the estate of one of The Textile Studios’ students, a Mr H Waddington of Cirencester (an architect) and it is likely that the surviving designs and sketches are from Mr Waddington’s hand. In a letter dated 27 January 1955 sent to Waddington from The Textile Studio, Mr West explains that ‘If you can paint flowers with moderate skill, you will find designing for Cretonnes, etc., an easy, fascinating way of adapting your abilities to a remunerative purpose’. His sales pitch is persuasive:

‘Your prospective markets are immense, for it should never be forgotten that the Textile Industry is a “staple” industry of this country and that Manufacturers are perpetually purchasing and printing new designs for Cretonnes, Furnishing Fabrics of all kinds and Dress Goods etc. In the home trade alone, there is a constant, increasing demand for replacements of fabrics in millions of existing homes, plus the fabrics which will be required for a vast number of new homes to be built. Add to this the repeated Government drives to increase Exports and you will realise that there is a tremendous scope for the right type of designs made by people who know the Trade’s requirements.’ (3)

Waddington also received from West testimonials from satisfied pupils, and further reviews were included in the ‘You can make money…’ pamphlet’, with an emphasis on successful sales. The Textile Studio acted as a sales agent, operating as an intermediary between freelance designer and industry. A Mr K V R Rogers of Ruislip, Middlesex is quoted: ‘Thank you very much for your cheque for £92.12- in payment of Designs sold by you on my account’; Mrs F E Graham-Vone of Bournemouth notes ‘I was very pleased to receive your cheque for £7.11.0 (Design sold for £8.8.0)  for my Design. I feel very encouraged by having one accepted while only HALF WAY THROUGH THE COURSE’. The Studio’s ‘Sales Service’ was available just to its own students and it charged a 10% commission on designs sold). A Mrs Alcock from Liverpool is also grateful for them selling her first designs and Mrs Elwes of Bournemouth compliments the course as ‘thoroughly practical and beyond praise’.


Designs by Mrs C Elwes and Mrs M E Alcock

Evidently Waddington was ‘persuaded’ of the merits of enrolling on the course and in a letter dated 14 February 1955, West (who signs himself ‘Principal’) acknowledges receipt of a cheque for the full fee of £9. 17 shillings. For this, Waddington received a ‘Manual’ which set out general instructions on designing, including information of materials required, a glossary of trade terms, information on printing methods, repeats, colour theory, conducting research and an extensive list of ‘do’s and don’ts’. He also received the first two exercises to complete with instructions to return and criticisms would follow.

img723Exercise 35aDiagram 6

The watercolour sketches in the collection show that Waddington was a competent flower painter.

However, in West’s letter of criticism sent in response to Waddington’s first design submissions there is clearly room for considerable improvement! (4) For Design No. 1 West provides extensive criticism and notes:

B5474 Design No 1

Design number 1

‘…you give a good variety of subjects, but I am sorry that you have made such a feature of the pointed leaves…’, there is ‘a total affect of crowded fussiness, which is not desirable’. ‘Next, try and give more true-to-life subtlety and refinement in the painting of the silhouettes, and in the placing of your touches of shadow and highlight, because frankly these are rather too simple and sometimes too crudely done, to come up to Trade standards, or to make the subjects look lifelike. Take, for instance, any of the flowers in the group I have circled in pencil. They are not good studies, and they are crude and clumsy’

On the ‘Criticism Chart’ provided, Waddington is advised to revisit specific information provided in the Textile Design Studio manual, such as point 16 ‘ The size of your groups is too large for the size of the repeat and the six-colour Duplex type f pattern. Please see the Sample and Paragraph 18, pages 43 and 44.’

The detail of the criticism provided illustrates that West was always considering the trade’s requirements and tastes. It is clear that this was quite a conservative taste – with flowers dominant and traditional treatments preferred.

David West’s attitude to more modern approaches is outlined in the notes that accompany Exercise No 3. (See earlier image). As a lover of 1950s contemporary style I found his comments particularly interesting and what follows is an extended passage:

‘Due to the increasing demand for ”modern” furniture, a new style of Cretonne pattern which is generally termed “Contemporary”, has come into vogue and, although there will always be a market for a certain number of this style of design, it is the general opinion of the Trade that they will never replace the realistic Florals, which still sell in far greater “Contemporaries”.  However, in order to bring the Course up-to-date, I am attaching a Sample of what I call “Manchester Modern” because, instead of the design being an “all out” purely abstract or modern type, such as “mobile” types of designs, as one see in patterns Featured by D Whitehead Limited, it is a compromise.’ (5)

Waddington’s response is illustrated below, unfortunately David West’s criticism of it does not survive.


This focus on the activities of The Textile Studio and one of its pupils is a tiny snapshot of the world of textile design in the mid-1950s, but I would argue, an important one. Such material is frequently dismissed as worthless and inconsequential, especially when it is of a traditional nature. Even though the ‘mobile types of designs’ referred to above, might be my designs of choice, it is easy to forget that the majority of patterns produced, manufactured and sold in the 1950s were the floral patterns that West was encouraging his students to design.


A dining room from the 1950s with the more typical designs seen in homes of that decade.


  1. lloydellis.co.uk
  2. The Textile Design Studio ‘You can make money by designing floral printed textiles’, Harrow, c.1955
  3. Letter from D.West to H.Waddington, 27 January 1955
  4. Letter from D.West to H.Waddingtom, 23 March 1955
  5. Exercise No 3

Further Reading

  • Conran, T (1957) Printed Textile Design, The Studio Ltd, London
  • Jackson, L (2002) 20th Century Pattern Design: textile and wallpaper poineers, Mitchell Beazley, London
  • Schoeser, M (1986) Fabrics and Wallpapers, Bell & Hyman, London

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Julia Lloyd-Ellis for lending me this collection.


Posted in Textile Designers, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Horace Brooke: commercial artist


Horace Brooke self-portrait

The following article is a departure from my usual emphasis on fashion and textiles, but it does continue my interest in recording the lives of creative individuals who have been hidden from history. This is the story of my husband Andrew’s great uncle Horace Brooke. As the unofficial family archivist, I had been fascinated by Horace’s artistic talents and knew he had been to Leeds School of Art. I always had a little fantasy that his studio space may have been sandwiched between Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth’s – little did I know…

In 2017 Andrew and I visited the ‘Ravilious & Co: Pattern of Friendship’ exhibition at the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne. In the first section that covered Ravilious and friends at the Royal College of Art [RCA] in the early 1920s, I was drawn to the  photograph of the Royal College of Art Convocation, from the 18th July 1924 that included Ravilious and Edward Bawden’s future wife Charlotte Epton (top row fifth from the left).  Charlotte was next two interesting individuals who stood out amidst a sea of female faces, one very tall

2017-09-09 22.35.18

and the other short and from the Far East. As I had recently been scanning family photographs I recognised the tall young man as Horace! I hadn’t realised he had been at the RCA and had studied in such illustrious company. So as a result I have been trying to find out as much about Horace Brooke as I could and what follows is the results of that research.

Horace was born in the village of Gawthorpe, near Dewsbury in West Yorkshire, on the 11th April 1898, the second son of milk dealer Lionel Brooke and his wife Mary. His older brother was Leonard, and then came his sister Ada, then brothers Albert, Ernest and Gilbert. Two other siblings had died in infancy. (Click on the images for captions)


left to right: Leonard, Ada, Horace c. 1907

The village was a thriving community and dominated by the mining industry. The Brooke family were staunch Methodists and attended the Bethesda United Methodist Church where Lionel was a preacher. Horace and his siblings attended the village school. It is said that Horace showed artistic talent from an early age and according to the Dewsbury & Batley Advertiser (24 Dec 1953) he was taken under the wing of local artist Arthur Oldroyd. Wilfred Gledhill was his teacher when he attended the Ossett Municipal Technical School as a part-time student between 1910 and 1913, he appears to have also have been working as a farm hand during this period.

Between 1913 and 1915 Horace attended Leeds School of Art, Horace’s granddaughters still own a substantial collection of his artwork – there are sketchbooks, prints and paintings from this period which illustrate his aptitude.


But his studies were interrupted when he enlisted in the Green Howards at Richmond on the 18 November 1915. Fortunately, his service papers survive, although his age is wrongly recorded as 19 years and 7 months.

Horace Brooke 1916

Horace in 1916

Horace had a rather up and down career in the army. On 8 June 1916 he was promoted to Corporal, two weeks later he was a Sergeant. He transferred to the Machine Gun Corps the following month. However, the next year, in March, he was tried in Aldershot for ‘neglecting company orders’ and ‘conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline’ and was found guilty – the sentence was a demotion to Corporal. But Horace bounced back with a promotion to acting sergeant on 23 October 1918 and the following week to full sergeant.

Horace Brooke Sketchbook

Life in the trenches, a page from Horace’s skethcbook

These promotions were undoubtedly related to the acts of bravery that won him the Distinguished Conduct Medal. It is worth reproducing the citation in full:

‘For consistent bravery disregard of danger and devotion to duty during operations near Le Cateall. On the morning of October 20th he led his section across the River Selle under heavy fire and in very bad weather, and by skillfull [sic] leadership got them into position with the infantry on the final objective without loss. When the enemy were reported to be preparing for a counter attack he went out alone in front to reconnoitre, and personally knocked out an enemy machine gun killing the crew. On his return he brought two of his guns to bear on another enemy machine gun – which he had noticed annoying the infantry – and silenced it by knocking out the crew. Having been informed by the infantry that a large party of Germans were assembling for a counter attack near Amerval he took a gun out on the flank opened fire and scattered the rest in all directions. By his prompt action and watchfullness he effectively protected the left flank of the division when the situation on this flank was obscure.  (Recommended for D.C.M. (immediate) signed by R W Goldsborough Capt: D Company: 38th M.G.C. 24th October 1918)’

In contrast to Horace’s war, his older brother Leonard, serving with the King’s Own Light Infantry, perished in a trench in Normandy on 12 February 1917, aged just twenty-one.

When he was demobbed in February 1919 Horace returned to Leeds School of Art where he studied for the next two years. He was in illustrious company, fellow students included Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Edna Ginesi and Raymond Coxon.

Horace’s nickname was ‘Buggins’ and this is how he is referred to by Henry Moore in a letter to Horace from the 1950s, it seems that the two kept in touch. Moore’s background was similar to Horace’s, both were from working-class backgrounds and both had served in the First World War.

In 1921 Horace was awarded a County Art Scholarship to attend the Royal College of Art in London. He was there with several of his Leeds colleagues, including Moore, in fact there were so many students from Leeds that the common room had what was known as ‘the Leeds table’.

At the College Horace’s main study was painting, but he also studied architecture, drawing and engraving. His reports record that he was ‘an excellent student’, ‘an able draftsman’ and ‘a hard worker’, although one dissenting voice describes him as ‘an earnest student, not very gifted, but improving’! He contributed to the RCA’s student magazine and provided designs and decorations for the common room socials. When he graduated with a diploma in Drawing and Painting in July 1924, he was photographed (see image earlier in this article) with fellow students who included Eric Ravilious, Albert Christopherson, Charles Tunnicliffe, and Douglas Percy Bliss, who all went on to have distinguished careers in the arts.


Horace at his convocation in July 1924

One of his close friends at the college was fellow student Ba Nyan, who had travelled from Myanmar (Burma) and had a key role in promoting western painting techniques to Myanmar artists when he returned home. Ba Nyan visited Gawthorpe with Horace and stayed with the family and once he had left England he kept in touch.

In May 1925 the Yorkshire Post reported that Horace was represented in an exhibition at the Royal Academy, his work was shown in an open competition for scholarships for the British School in Rome, the newspaper noted ‘Among the engravings the work of Mr Horace Brooke has much to commend it, “Grassington Bridge” is particularly well done’, this was a subject he returned to many times.  The following paragraph in the piece mentions Barbara Hepworth’s entry.

img289 (2)

Grassington Bridge, 1953. A subject Horace returned to many times.

His annual RCA admission forms record his desire to become a ‘Painter and Black and White artist’ (printing) although on his last form, in 1924, a perhaps more realistic future as a ‘Teacher or Black & White artist’ is recorded. He was fond of self-portraiture and there are several examples of his talent for ‘black and white’ art in these examples.

When Horace left the RCA in July 1925 he set up a design business with fellow RCA students E Sutton and W Twibell .

The business was known as The Regent Studio and was based in Knightsbridge and the trio focused on ‘Design, engraving, illuminating, lettering, decoration, stone carving, illustrations, posters etc’.

It’s not clear when Horace ventured out on his own – but by 1931 he had established himself as a commercial artist in St Albans. At this point he married his long-time sweetheart Elsie Lovell and in 1924 she gave birth to their son Howard.

Like all commercial artists, Horace worked on a mixed range of projects for a varied array of clients. Work ranged from a small bookplate, to illustrations to promote art paper produced by the paper company Balston.

During the Second World War Horace served his country again  and also produced drawings for the local paper to promote the purchase of a spitfire on the front cover of The Herts Advertiser in August 1940.

Although Horace had made his home in the south, he was very attached to Yorkshire. He travelled to see family including his birthplace, Gawthorpe, where his sister lived, and he went on camping trips to the Dales, especially to Grassington. He later took his caravan north for holidays.

He took a regular job for the Yorkshire Woollen District Transport Company of creating the covers its staff magazine as well as its company Christmas cards. Horace continued painting and printmaking and exhibited in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions in the 1950s.

After retirement, Horace and Elsie returned to their beloved Yorkshire and he taught art at Heckmondwyke Senior School before opening a sweet shop at Daisy Hill, Dewsbury. Elsie died in 1958 followed seven years later by Horace.

The stories of Horace and his brother Leonard Brooke illustrate the contrasting fates of two soldiers who fought in the First World War, Leonard cut down in his prime at the age of twenty-one and Horace who went on to marry, have a family and enjoy a successful career building on his artistic aptitude. Horace’s story is also of interest as he is one of many art-school-trained individuals who did not reach the heights of his fellow students, Moore, Hepworth and Ravilious – however, he is more typical of the many whose talent was recognised and then nurtured at art school allowing them to earn a living from their talents.


Many thanks to Horace’s granddaughter Jacqueline Smith for her help and permission to produce his artwork, thanks to Mary Clay (Horace’s niece), Andrew Clay (Horace’s great nephew), Kate Gilliland (Leeds College of Art), Keith Rowntree (Leeds Beckett University) and Neil Parkinson (Royal College of Art).

Unless stated otherwise all the images are owned by and reproduced by kind permission of the family and must not be reproduced without permission. 

Posted in Artist and Designers, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

‘Travels with my Tape Measure’: the fashion design career of Sheila Hughes. Part 1 [1]

Sheila Hughes, 2019

As I write this article the Dior exhibition has just opened at the Victoria & Albert Museum and is the latest in a long list of blockbuster shows devoted to the great names of couture fashion. But what of those thousands of designers (mainly female) who worked in the fashion industry but who remain anonymous? What stories can they provide about their training and the experience of designing for small manufacturers during the second half of the twentieth century, what was it like to work in the more everyday world of fashion? This is the story of just one of those designers and I hope it will encourage others to record the experience of others. 

Last summer we put the house we had lived in for twenty years on the market. One of the prospective purchasers asked me what I did for a living and I explained my research on fashion and textile history and the exhibition I had curated on swimwear. She mentioned that she had a neighbour in the next village who had been a designer of swimwear. Intrigued, I asked if she could put us in touch, and in July last year I had my first meeting with Sheila Hughes. What a shame that I was just about to move from Leicestershire and that we hadn’t met before even though we lived only two miles apart!

Chatting to Sheila, I realised that her long and varied career in fashion was worthy of sharing. She had held onto lots of documents relating to her education and career and it is hoped this collection will be kept together and placed in some repository where others can access and study it. This article is the result of three meetings with her – she listened patiently to my numerous questions and did her best to recall her training and early career.

Education 1948-1950

She was born Sheila Cooper in Surbiton, Surrey in 1931. Her father Eric Cooper was a factory manager for a firm producing buttons and buckles in Wandsworth.

Her mother Kathleen had worked in a bank until her marriage in 1930. Her maternal grandmother had been a dressmaker, and Sheila explained that she ‘had always done little bits and pieces’ herself. At the age of sixteen she was unclear about what career she wanted to pursue. Her father’s connections in the rag-trade led her to a decision that she would go to the Barrett Street Technical College [2].

Barrett Street was one of a number of trade schools founded in the early twentieth century to train girls in skilled jobs for the needle-trades. After the war such schools tended to be transformed into technical colleges. Barrett Street was at the centre of the West End fashion trade and the principal was Miss E E Cox. Sheila attended Barrett Street between 1948 and 1950 and studied for a Senior Technical Diploma in the Theory and Practice of Dressmaking. She attended full-time, but the College also offered part-time courses and evening classes in subjects ranging from hand-embroidery, dressmaking, ladies tailoring, cutting and modelling, to elocution lessons and hairdressing. The course she attended was designed to prepare girls for work at all levels of the clothing trade, including the very best couture houses or mass production firms.

Many of her fellow students came from families who ran clothing businesses. She recalled that students ‘learned a lot of stitches’ and techniques that were used in haute couture, including the skills of making hand-made button-holes, modelling on the stand and flat pattern cutting. From her time at Barrett Street, Sheila has held onto sketchbooks, sample folders, notebooks, fashion illustrations, drafting books, grading sheets, photographs and the College prospectus.

She showed me a book of samples that she produced which demonstrates the variety of techniques that students were taught. For example, samples include buttonholes and fastenings, seams, pockets, plackets and numerous decorative techniques.

The book also contains partially made garments, that combined more than one process.

Fashion drawing and English were also included in the curriculum, as well as Physical Education.


According to Sheila, studying in post-war London involved a lot of walking! Barrett Street had been affected by bombing and so students travelled from building to building. The map that appeared on the back of the 1948 prospectus illustrates the various locations that the College was using temporarily [3]. She remembers travelling between Bolsover Annexe on Great Portland Street, St Thomas’s in Picton Place, Cavendish Annexe on Cavendish Street and Whitefield Annexe (Whitefield St).


Back cover of the Barrett St prospectus 1949/50

Part of the curriculum involved learning about the history of fashion. Sheila has kept an A3 folder that consists of a chronological survey of fashion, with information on the social and cultural context of each period. Students were required to make a scale pattern of garments from the different periods studied which would have been particularly useful students who were destined for a career in theatre costume. Sheila remembers finding producing the scaled-down patterns quite fiddly, but she appreciated the background knowledge she gained by studying the past.

I asked Sheila if she felt Barrett Street had prepared her well for a career in the garment trade, she commented ‘Well no, so you think you know it all but then I found out when I went to work I didn’t. So, you know you have to learn pretty quickly once you’re out’. However, she felt that there were some skills that her course taught her, modelling on the stand was important when she worked at the couture level and flat pattern cutting was invaluable too.

The Fashion Industry in Post-war Britain

For Sheila leaving Barrett Street and finding job was relatively easy. The wholesale ready-to-wear trade was well-established by the outbreak of war, and wartime circumstances meant the clothing industry generally was forced to be better organised, more efficient and as a result more prosperous. Better mass production techniques, sizing and costing practices also contributed to what Margaret Wray has described as a very prosperous period, between 1946 and 1950 [4]. She also reports that the largest section of women’s clothing industry was based in London and made up largely of small producers [5]. There were large numbers of workers employed in the clothing trades with the higher-class products being made in the West End of London and lower class in the East End.

Posners Ltd 1950-1951

It was in this context that Sheila applied for her first job. She had particularly enjoyed learning pattern cutting at Barrett Street, which was to prove crucial for her first job as a cutter and grader at Posner Ltd. She saw the job advertised in the trade magazine Draper’s Record and wrote to the company. She was interviewed by Mr Posner, the owner, and his son known as ‘Mr Claude’. Still living at home with her parents in Surrey, she travelled into London each day. The company’s business was the wholesale manufacturer of evening dresses. Her main role was as a junior cutter, with two cutters working above her. The small factory employed about twenty machinists, who occupied one end of a large room, with the finishers in the middle and the cutting tables at the other end, the room included presses. There was a stockroom onto the street with Mr Posner’s office to the side. In a time when fabric was still rationed the rolls of cloth were allocated carefully and there were limits on how many yards could be used for a dress. At the time Sheila worked for Posners it seemed to be thriving, as she can remember more and more rolls of cloth arriving and nowhere to store it, so it was hung from the ceiling. Generally, the dresses produced had a taffeta slip underneath and a net covering – perhaps spotted, sometimes it was drawn up at the hem like a cinema curtain. Sheila didn’t stay very long at Posners – like others she kept a close eye on opportunities listed in Drapers’ Record, and there seemed to be no shortage.

Black & Chilton 1951-1953

In 1951 she spotted an advertisement for a designer/pattern cutter at Black & Chilton who manufactured women’s afternoon dresses. The publication of a report on Design and the Designer in the Dress Trade by the Council for Art & Industry suggested that the supply of good designers was limited and helps explain why Sheila found it relatively easy to gain employment [6]. Black & Chilton were based in Dering Street and had a factory in Croydon. Here Sheila had a sample-hand working for her and she had to come up with methods of making specific garments which were written down for the machinists. Sheila remembers on one occasion a machinist had got it all wrong and it turned out she couldn’t read and was unable to follow the instructions. The firm had a designer and one of Sheila’s jobs was interpret her designs and turn them into a workable pattern. She also spent time at the Croydon factory where she would do the lays – working out the most efficient use of fabric by careful positioning the pattern pieces.

Whilst Sheila worked at Black & Chilton the garment industry experienced a slump. The firm had to put many of its workers on half-time, fortunately Sheila was not one of them. Her father was now running a small factory producing hand-made buttons and his business was also hit quite badly, he eventually moved out of the trade completely.

Lorraine & Chadley 1953-1955

Sheila moved again in 1953, this time to Lorraine & Chadley, they were housed ina modern building on Little Titchfield Street and made teenage party and evening wear. She was employed as a designer and pattern cutter and focused on clothes for the teenager, while another designer concentrated on younger children’s garments. The fashion in children’s wear at the time was for lots of smocking which was sent out to be completed by outworkers. Sheila was tasked with creating dresses such as the one shown here, described as a ‘debutante dress’, which was part of show put on for buyers at the Dorchester Hotel.


Whilst at Lorraine & Chadley she was involved in a competition run by the Daily Mirror aimed at teenage girls who were invited to submit designs for a dress. The prize for the winner, Edna Brown, was to have her dress made up by the firm – which was described in the paper as a ‘top girl’s dress salon’. Here we see Sheila photographed with the winner in her finished party-frock.


Another memorable project for Sheila was the design of the outfit for the Leeds May Queen in 1954. For this creation, she felt like she ‘could go to town’. It was during this period that Sheila married David Hughes, who, at the time was a Subaltern with the Royal Engineers.

Perlmutt & Co Ltd 1956-1957

Sheila’s final London job was for Perlmutt & Co Ltd who produced model couture gowns and wedding dresses and sold in up-market departments stores like Harrods and Marshall & Snelgrove. For her interview she wore a black coat that she had designed and made herself, this walking advertisement for her skills impressed her interviewers and she got the job! Perlmutt, like the majority of the firms where Sheila was employed in the 1950s, was Jewish-owned and many of the machinists who worked there had survived the concentration camps of Poland. The company had a show-room and resident model who would come in to show off Perlmutt’s creation to visiting buyers.

She was employed as a pattern cutter and modeller (on the stand) on a substantial salary of £12. The firm had a designer called Miss Jay, they employed two or three girls who did beading and there were two sample hands. Here Sheila had the opportunity to design high-class gowns, including copies of Paris couture models. Perlmutts purchased toiles from couture houses in Paris for reproduction. Sheila adapted a toile of a dress bought from Pierre Balmain for Perlmutts and produced a version for herself and still has it, it has been worn many times by her and members of her family. The version she made for herself was slightly adapted and the boning omitted. The images illustrate the complex nature of the pattern, with the pleats stitched on the inside and the hem completed with netting. The fabric was by Sekers – who were one of the premier firms producing silk designs for the fashion industry and was bought by Sheila in the West End.  

During her time at Perlmutts, Sheila’s husband was completing his national service printing maps in Dortmund, Germany. She spent some extended periods with him and they lived in Goering’s flat.

As was the custom in the 1950s Sheila left Perlmutts to have her first child, Alison, in 1957. Three more children, in 1959 (Joanna), 1962 (Christopher) and 1964 (Charlotte) kept Sheila very busy – so we see a temporary break in her fashion career until 1970, this second chapter will be continued in Part II…


1. This was the title Sheila used when she travelled collecting information for a Marks & Spencer measurement survey in the early 1980s.

2. Reynolds, H Couture or Trade: and Early Pictorial Record of the London College of Fashion, Chichester, Phillamore & Co. 1997.

3. Barrett Street Prospectus 1949-50, London County Council, 1949.

4. Wray, M The Women’s Outerwear Industry, Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd, London, 1957.

5. Wray, p.63.

6. Council For Art & Industry, Design and Designer in the Dress Trade, HMSO, 1945.

Further Reading

Barrett Street Prospectus 1949-50, London County Council, 1949.

Boydell, C. Horrockses Fashions: Off the Peg Style in the 40s and 50s, London, V&A Publications, 2010.

Ewing, E. History of Twentieth Century Fashion, London, Batsford, 1974.

Reynolds, H. Couture or Trade: and Early Pictorial Record of the London College of Fashion, Chichester, Phillamore & Co. 1997.

Wray, M. The Women’s Outerwear Industry, Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd, London, 1957.


This article would not have been possible without the cooperation and enthusiasm of Sheila Hughes herself. The majority of the images have been provided by her. Thanks also to her daughter Charlotte, who took the photograph of Sheila at the beginning of the article.




Posted in Fashion Designers, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hans Tisdall (Aufseeser) 1910-1997


In his 1937 publication British Textile Designers Today H G Hayes Marshall described Hans Aufseeser (later Tisdall) as a designer ‘whose careful attention to detail and his real ability to design for any technique has placed him in the front rank of British Designers for Industry’.

Tisdall was born Hans John Knox Aufseeser in Munich to an Anglo-Irish mother and a German father, Ernst Aufseeser (an artist and designer). He adopted his mother’s maiden name Tisdall in the 1940s. He studied at The Academy of Fine Art, Munich in 1928 and was apprenticed to the sculptor Moisey Keegan. He lived in Paris and Ascona, Switzerland before settling in London in 1930. He began his professional life in Britain working for an advertising agency – but he soon abandoned this to concentrate on a career as a painter. However, the economic climate of the thirties meant he had to diversify and became well known during the decade as a textile designer producing patterns for some of the best firms of the day – including Warner & Sons, Edinburgh Weavers, Donald Brothers and Allan Walton. Hayes Marshall describes how he was the only designer submitting his patterns on rice paper which allowed a prospective buyer to appreciate the design when gathered up.

His work was extremely wide-ranging and he also worked as a muralist, including on a commission with Edward Bawden and John Armstrong for the Michael Rachlis’ International Building Club in Park Lane just before the outbreak of the war. His large scale work was further developed in 3D form in 1951 when he designed plaster centaurs for the Festival of Britain Pleasure Gardens at Battersea in 1951, alongside a cockerel mural . He revisited the cockerel motif in this 1957 design for Edinburgh Weavers.

In 1941 he married Isabel Gallegos the daughter of a Spanish painter who worked as a stylist for Edinburgh Weavers. She set up her own firm Tamesa Fabrics in 1964 and Hans provided many of the designs.

His textile patterns are often large in scale and owe much to his experience as a mural painter – such as his design ‘Pheasant Moon’ for Edinburgh Weavers, 1960. This design has an enormous repeat (220cm).


‘Pheasant Moon’ Edinburgh Weavers, screen-printed Ravel Satin (authors’ collection)

The large scale patterns he designed for Edinburgh Weavers are particularly effective and were perfectly suited for the prevailing fashion in architecture for floor to ceiling windows.

Tisdall was an extremely versatile designer and  was also well known for his graphic work, particularly book jackets.

Like many artist-designers of his generation he worked across a number of design disciplines, and added twelve large scale designs for the Edinburgh Tapestry Company between 1959 and 1974 to his expanding catalogue . He is pictured here checking the colours of his tapestry ‘Space’.


As well as continuing to practice as a painter he also taught at the Central School of Arts and Crafts between 1948 and 1975 initially in textiles and later in painting.


Further Reading

Marshall, HG Hayes (1939) British Textile Designers Today (Leigh-on-Sea, F Lewis Ltd)

Jackson, Lesley (2012) Alastair Morton and Edinburgh Weavers (London, V&A Publishing)

Powers, Alan – (7.2.1997) ‘Obituary of Hans Tisdall’, Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/incoming/obituary-hans-tisdall-5581928.html

Robertson, Bryan (1990) Hans Tisdall: Paintings 1960-1997, (London, Albermarle Gallery)

Schoeser, Mary (1992) Influential Europeans in British Craft and Design, (London, Crafts Council)

Victoria & Albert Museum


Posted in Textile Designers, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Coasters for Christmas

FESTIVAL OF PATTERN – catalogue for customers April 2018.docx

I have been sorting through fabric and making up coasters for Christmas orders. The designs above are new (in acrylic casings) and many of the fabrics are now also available in glass casings (below).

You can see the full range with details of how to order – just click on the link below:

FESTIVAL OF PATTERN COASTERS – Catalogue -APRIL 2018 FESTIVAL OF PATTERN – catalogue for customers April 2018.docx


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Marion Dorn: Illustrations for William Beckford’s Vathek, 1929


Back in the 1980s I was working on my PhD on the American textile designer Marion Dorn and was in New York where I interviewed Yvonne McHarg, a food stylist, who had known Dorn back in the 1930s through her sister Madge Garland. Garland was a fashion journalist and the founder of the first fashion course at the Royal College of Art, she and Dorn were good friends. On that trip Yvonne gave me her copy of Vathek. The book was a re-print of William Beckford’s 1782 gothic novel – which tells the story of Vathek, a caliph, who builds five palaces, each devoted to the enjoyment of one of the five senses. The book was published by the Nonesuch Press in 1929 with illustrations by Marion Dorn. In this article I would like to draw attention to the relationship between Dorn’s  textile design and these illustrations.

Dorn’s eight full-page illustrations and two vignettes were printed by the Curwen Press. There was a limited print run for the volume with 1050 copies produced in the UK and 500 in the US. The printing process used was lithography and each illustration has a pastel-like quality. At the time she produced these designs she was starting to become a very successful textile designer and was gaining a reputation for her batiks which she had been designing since she settled in London in 1923 with her partner and fellow American, graphic designer, Edward McKnight Kauffer.

When Dorn arrived in London she continued to develop the batik work which she had begun when she lived in New City, New York with her then husband the ceramic artist Henry Varnum Poor. The fabrics she produced in England in the 1920s ranged from  large-scale bespoke pieces, to smaller items such as scarves and handkerchiefs and occasionally dresses.

Dorn’s pattern-making skills are evident in both the illustrations to Vathek, in her batik patterns and the increasing number of carpet designs she was starting to produce by the late 1920s. In her  first illustration for the book (see image shown next to book’s binding, above) one can clearly see the geometric composition of the floor of the palace that derives from her batik work and was developing in her rug designs, especially the important commission she received for the 1932 extension and redecoration of Claridges Hotel, London by Oswald P Milne.

The second full-page image in the book illustrates the area described in the text where ‘a hundred groves of sweetly scented shrubs’ were situated and where Vathek went to breath fresh air and drink the pure water. Dorn’s treatment of the trees intended to represent the range of different species found there, she intersects them with a flowing stream. The way she handles the depiction of the various leaf forms relates to her skilled rendering of leaf and plant forms in both her rug and fabric designs.

Vathek builds an observation tower with 1,500 steps on the top of which a fire is built in and a sacrifice made. In a further episode in the story tigers attack a group of travellers. In both these illustrations Dorn’s drawing is accomplished and her composition and pattern-making skills obvious.

In some of the illustrations we see motifs that recur again and again in Dorn’s textile work, particularly leaves and birds.

Dorn’s abstracted treatment of birds was developed in several textile designs in the 1930s. The surreal treatment of the disembodied hand and heart was adapted for a design she did for a screen print ‘Hand & Poppy for Warner & Sons in 1935.


Vathek is the only book that Dorn illustrated, probably because her career as a textile designer really took off in the 1930s. Her name appeared regularly in the art and design press and in 1934 she set up her own limited company – unusual for a designer at the time.

She did occasionally produce works on paper, these included cards, wallpapers and embroidery transfers – but her real talent was working with fabric and fibre, whether that be for printed textiles or more textural weaves and rugs. Writing in 1939,  the writer and interior designer H.G.Hayes Marshall described Dorn ‘ as one of the most prominent and successful designers of our time’. (1)

(1) Marshal, H.G. Hayes (1939) British Textile Designers Today, F Lewis.


Boydell, C (1996) The Architect of Floors: modernism, art and Marion Dorn designs, Schoeser

Boydell, C (1996) ‘Batik in America and Britain 1920-1930: The Early Career of Marion Dorn’, Text, 24: 4-8

Boydell, C (1996) ‘The Decorative Imperative: Marion Dorn’s Textiles and Modernism’, Journal of the Decorative Arts Society, 19: 31-40



Posted in Textile Designers, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment