Back to the Drawing Board

captureFor the past few months I have been acting as a consultant for this exhibition currently on show at Keele University, Staffordshire, which showcases the work of textile designer Pat Albeck and her late husband, theatre designer Peter Rice. Their son Matthew and his wife and business partner Emma Bridgewater (both designers) came to Keele University with the idea for the show (the Emma Bridgewater Factory is located a few miles away in Stoke on Trent). The team at Keele have gathered an eclectic array of Pat and Peter’s work as a fitting tribute to this creative couple.

My role in the show relates specifically to the work of Pat Albeck – who I first got to know when I was researching Horrockses Fashions. It was here that Pat worked at the beginning of her long and illustrious career. She started at Horrockses while still a student at the Royal College of Art in 1952 where she was talent-spotted by two of Horrockses’ directors. She worked for them alternate months while at the RCA and became full-time after graduation, and this early experience was so important for her future career. There are a number of examples of early work in the exhibition, including these skirts and a sun dress.

The Venice Market design (middle right and bottom) is a particular favourite of hers and was discovered quite recently on Ebay, the original design is in the V&A, as is the design of lobsters completed for one of the Horrockses’ stylists John Tullis. She worked closely with firm’s fashion designers throughout the six years she was with the company. The sundress is also a design by Tullis with Pat’s distinctive drawing style.


Pat was born in Hull in 1930 and attended the local art school before travelling south to study at the Royal College of Art. The elements of the exhibition devoted to Pat’s work reflect both the diversity and longevity of her career. When she left Horrockses she began a successful career as a freelance designer – there are too many companies to list here – but some of the best known include Sam Sherman, Sekers, M&S,  John Lewis and Sandersons. Her work for John Lewis was particularly significant. In the sixties she was asked to produce a design based on the patterns of William Morris – her response was ‘Daisy Chain’ – printed in several colourways it was their best seller for 15 years. Pat feels that it was her work for Cavendish Textiles (the production arm of John Lewis) that included some of her best work. Working directly for a retailer, meant it was easier for her to understand who the end-user of her designs was going to be, the most important person to her is always the consumer.

Pat met her future husband, Peter Rice, at the Royal College of Art where he was studying theatre design. I have been lucky enough to some spend time with both Pat and Peter over the last few years and their complementary partnership was wonderful to witness.

Peter had been closely involved in the planning of this exhibition, but sadly he passed away on 24 Dec 2015 – I think he would have been very pleased with the show. His work is represented by numerous drawings and models for his extensive catalogue of theatre and opera productions. His first opera production was Il Seraglio in 1952 for Sadler’s Wells and he was designing for Holland Park Opera well into his eighties. His theatre work included designs for a revival of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal and in 1988 he did the sets for Maureen Lipman’s Re:Joyce. In the Keele exhibition a reproduction of the mural that Peter painted for the Bridgwater factory takes a prominent place. Painted in 2013 ‘A Bright Past for Stoke-on-Trent’ and features its architectural heritage and is one of the last major pieces that Peter produced.


Although Pat Albeck is best known for her textile designs, she produced designs for ceramics, tins and wallpapers – also represented here.

There is a wonderful display of tea towels hanging in rows from the ceiling. How many of you have an Albeck tea towel lurking in a kitchen drawer? She designed ranges of products for them, including tea towels, from 1967 and still designs a tea towel for them every year.

20161108_190334Always passionate about flowers (but rejecting the phrase ‘floral’) – this subject has dominated much of her output. A close examination of a couple of designs demonstrates her mastery of the pencil – her drawing is always exquisite.

In recent years Pat has turned her creative attention to the production of cut paper designs – again flowers dominate. The fact that at her last show every one sold is testament to her continued creativity.

The design dynasty is continued by Matthew Rice and his wife Emma Bridgewater, and one of their four children who works as an illustrator.

The exhibition continues at Keele University Staffordshire until 26 January 2017

For more information:

  • Pat Albeck’s website –
  • Exhibition video – ‘Back to the Drawing Board’
  • Boydell, C (2010) Horrockses Fashions: Off-the-Peg Style in the ’40s and ’50s, V&A Publications
  • Boydell, C ((1999) ‘Pat Albeck: textile designs for Horrockses Fashions 1953-58’, Text, 29: 5-10




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New coaster designs added.

I have added some new designs – these coasters make great Christmas gifts for lovers of vintage. To find out more information visit the Selling page.

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M’s Dresses at the Harris Museum & Art Gallery

A couple of weeks ago I visited the Harris Museum and Art Gallery with M (see my posts about her collection here). She had donated quite a large selection of her Horrockses Fashions’ collection to the museum which has the largest collection in the country (and probably the world!)

M chatted with curator Caroline Alexander about her memories of wearing her Horrockses and Caroline showed her the permanent display and the rest of the Museum’s extensive collection.

The dresses donated include this summer dress which was worn to a garden party in the mid-1950s. It is made from a plain blue cotton which is overlaid with a white broderie anglaise fabric. And this daisy print sun dress (unfortunately without its little jacket).

M was able to provide some images of her wearing some of the donated items, including this pink and white spotted towelling jacket which she wore often. She can be seen sporting it her on a Mediterranean cruise ship. She took a trunkful of Horrockses on this trip.

When she travelled to New York on the Queen Mary  in the early 1960s she wore Horrockses again. The photograph below shows her wearing a late 1950s empire-line dress.

One of her favourite dresses was this 1953 black and white check nylon evening dress with its striking fuschia pink sash. She remembers wearing it to a dance where she waltzed with her brother (who worked at Horrockses Fashions), a rather grumpy Princess Margaret was in attendance.

Continuing the non-cotton theme, there are a number of items in the donation that reflect Horrockses Fashions’ practice of devoting about 20% of their production to other fabrics. This includes a purple and black silk dress and this amazing yellow negligee/gown (which M never wore), a hounds tooth cheque winter dress, and a pink silk day dress with pleated flounce at the hem and a red velvet strapless outfit.

One cotton dress has been given to the Harris as it uses the same fabric design as one already in its collection. This illustrates the deliberate strategy Horrockses Fashions adopted of enhancing the perceived exclusivity of the brand by using fabric strategically, to help disguise the scale of production. So the usual practice was to aim to style each fabric ‘twice in quite different types of garments.’

One of the great aspects of the donotion is when one can cross reference with other items in the Harris collection. They have a number of books that include fashion sketches and fabric samples. One match is M’s dark pink coat lined with a strawberry cotton print (she originally had the dress too – as shown in the image from Homes & Gardens magazine March 1954).

The donation also includes fabric samples and hats (you can read more about these here).

The donation includes a Horrockses’ evening dress worn by M’s mother (brown satin) and a number of other items illustrated below.

M decided to give such a large donation to the Harris as she was determined her dresses should be available for study by researchers. If you want to look at any of the Harris’s collection please contact them to make an appointment.







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Christmas is Coming!

I have been busy making coasters and key rings for the past couple of weeks having acquired some lovely vintage fabrics.

If you have friends who are into vintage these make the perfect Christmas gift. There are examples by Lucienne Day, Mary White, Michael O’Connell and others. You can find them here festival-of-pattern-coasters-nov-2016 – and there is a selection available in the Festival of Pattern Esty shop


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Talented designers from Jutland and Skipton

I have seen two notable exhibitions on my travels this summer – both focusing on textiles and both featuring talented women designers – who are new new to me.

The first was  ‘Marie Gudme Leth: Pioneer in Print’ at the Danish Design Museum in Copenhagen (until 25 September 2016). Gudme Leth had a long life (1895-1997) and a prolific output and the exhibition foregrounds her role as a designer who the raised ‘the status of printed textiles to the level enjoyed by other branches of applied art’. A designer-maker she was born in the Danish town of Aarhus, Jutland. She attended the local technical school before graduating from the Women’s School of Drawing and Industrial Art in Copenhagen. She later attended the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and worked at the Danish Museum of Decorative Art drawing objects for the Museum’s accession lists. She spent most of 1930 studying in Germany at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Decorative Arts) in Frankfurt am Main, and here she honed her printing skills, but returned to Copenhagen to take up the post as a teacher of textile printing at the School of Applied Art – she continued to design and print her own work.

The exhibition includes a large number of her fabrics – beautifully displayed in long lengths without the restriction of glass cases. This means that you can view each fabric at close quarters – a treat, when so often textiles have to be display in cases, but this means that museum staff have to be vigilant – touching fabric is a terrible temptation for many visitors!

Marie Gudme Leth’s work is organised into three stylistic periods. Fabrics from the first are hand-block printed, the patterns arranged simply in few colours and on unbleached linen. The earliest designs are from the 1930s and several were inspired by her stay in Java between 1921 and 1924 where she encountered the batik technique, such as ‘Jungle’, 1932 and ‘Chameleon’, 1938.

Gume Leth’s focus on hand printing was paralleled in England with designers like Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher pioneering its revival in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1935, with external financial support, she established Dansk Kattuntryk (Danish Calico Printworks), printing her own designs. The work of her company was retailed through the the Copenhagen shops MagasinBO,  Selskabet for Haandarbejdets Fremme (the Danish Handcrafts Guild), Magasin du Nord and Den Permanente.

In 1940 a disagreement caused Gudme Leth to leave Dansk Kattuntryk and for three years she was prohibited from using her own print designs and dyes that she formulated there. This set back, however, did nothing to dampen her creative output – the 1940s and 1950s were her golden years and work displayed represents the second phase of her output

The exhibition devotes a text panel to printing process and outlines the emergence of the hand-screen printing process, which Gudme Leth encountered on a study trip to a German textile printworks in 1930. The technique, was also taken up by a number of British textile firms during the 1930s, particularly for the production of avant-garde and more experimental designs it allowed larger and more complex repeats as well as the better reproduction of mark-making and painterly effects. This focus on printing techniques left me a little disappointed that identification of the printing method was not included on the object labels.

This apart, I have nothing but praise for the show – Marie Gudme Leth’s work was a revelation particularly in terms of pattern and colour. Her ability to develop as a designer can be seen clearly in the range and quantity of work on display – from the simple early repeats, to the sophisticated pattern-making of the mid-period and then her  experiments with colouration and colour composition during the last phase of her career. Her work of the 1960s is characterised by overprinted patterns of pure geometry. She continued to print textiles until she closed her workshop in 1963-1964.

I am finishing with an image of her 1945 fabric ‘Friendship’ printed on vistra (a cellulose fabric – used by the designer frequently when natural fibres were difficult to obtain during World War 2). Shown alongside the work of Sheila Bownas they illustrate some of the subject-matter that these two very different designers shared.


‘A Life in Pattern: The Life and Works of Sheila Bownas’ at Rugby Art Gallery (closes on 3 September 2016) showcases an archive bought by Chelsea Cefai in 2008, it brings together examples of the designers’ work from this collection and from her family. Unlike the Gudmen Leth show – there are no fabrics – rather, there are dozens of designs on paper, examples of drawing and painting, sketchbooks and family photographs.

Sheila Bownas (1925-2007) was born in Linton, near Skipton, Yorkshire and her roots are reflected in several pieces on display. She attended Skipton Girls High School and then Skipton Art School and won a scholarship to attend The Slade School of Fine Ar. She moved to London in 1946 where she studied until 1950 becoming a skilled painter – several examples from this period are included in the exhibition.

Bownas is typical of so many designers – she was successful as a freelancer but her name remained hidden from the original consumers who bought her textiles and wallpapers from well-known names such as Liberty, Crown Wallpapers and Marks & Spencer. Apparently she did apply unsuccessfully for staff jobs and for three years she worked as a part-time teacher at Huddersfield School of Art (incidentally where I had my first job teaching design history!)

Her work shows her versatility and her ability to adapt her styles to suit different clients. The exhibition explains her design process (through objects and explanatory text), often a design began life as a doodle in a notebook, the idea was then developed as a scaled design on baking parchment and in repeat before being transferred by hand to paper and coloured in gouache.

The subject matter of her work ranges from novelty designs to florals – in a variety of stylistic treatments -to geometric and mid-century contemporary style patterns that stand comparison with some of the greats of textile design.

Chelsea Cefai, the curator of the exhibition, is also now the custodian of the Bownas archive. She has spent the last few years raising the Sheila Bownas’ profile and working with contemporary designers to make her work available in new products. You can see more on the Sheila Bownas Archive website. Some of these new products were included in the exhibition.


I caught the exhibition in its final week and unfortunately the catalogue was sold out – it is hoped that the exhibition will be shown elsewhere and that the catalogue will be re-printed.

There are so many talented people (particularly women), who are yet to be identified and their work studied. In recent years a few have been recognised and in some cases their work reproduced. Lara McKinnon and Sylvia Chalmers’ work can be bought from the Glasgow School of Art’s Vintage Textile Collections (the Bownas fabrics are also printed there). In my work on Horrockses Fashions I have written about Joyce Badrocke, Wendy Simpson and others – but there is much work yet to be done.

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Festival of Pattern Etsy shop – Sale

The Festival of Pattern Etsy shop currently has a 10% sale on all vintage fashion items. Visit the shop at

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Kid in a Sweet Shop: Part Four

This is the fourth and final part of my amazing trip last week to help M sort out her collection of vintage clothing

Horrockses Fashions’ first collection launched in April 1946 included ‘Dresses, Hostess Gowns and Beach Wear all made from Horrockses Fine Cottons’. Cotton was the ideal fabric for summer-wear and as the sale of the parent company’s cotton cloth was the reason the Fashions brand was created – it made perfect sense to produce collections of beach wear too which were included in collections from the very beginning. Here we see an outfit from their 1947 collection in a Picture Post piece  (top right) from May of that year and some examples from the late 1940s.

M’s collection includes Horrockses Fashions’ beachwear from the 1950s. The most stunning is this playsuit that was included in the exhibition at the Fashion & Textile Museum in 2010. Made from white cotton pique with a small repeating design in blue – the suit has a coordinated jacket, which was a common feature of this kind of ensemble.ftm-horrockses-139

The button-through skirts produced by Horrockses provided the perfect cover-up for beach clothing and leisure wear.

There are a few unpicked outfits, for example, this red ensemble with an overdress.

Horrockses Fashions produced a number of designs using towelling fabric as can be seen in the pink and white spotted beach robe. The candy striped stole in cotton from 1956 sports a capacious fringed pocket (it bears the Horrockses Fashions and a size 12 label – why?)

Not everything M has saved is by Horrockses. This exquisite swimsuit with embroidered flowers has no label and was discovered in the attic. It has never been worn as M thought it was just too beautiful.


Well this ends the Kid in a Sweet Shop adventure – I can’t imagine ever repeating the experience. Now the real work starts, some of M’s collection will find its way into a number of museums, some will be sold and some will be kept and treasured. I hope in time to be able to record which items will be accessible in museum collections and I also hope to be able to publish contemporary photographs of the garments being worn – so watch this space.

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