Dress and Textiles in the Archives

A shortened version of this post was originally written for the College of Arts Industry Engagement blog, in conjunction with Special Collections, to highlight the potential for research in this area within Archives and Special Collections at the University of Glasgow. April was #DressandTextilesMonth!

United Turkey Red sample (UGD13/8/2)

United Turkey Red sample (UGD 13/8/2)

Textiles are part of every aspect of daily life and Archive Services have hundreds of fascinating collections that relate to dress and textiles. The Scottish Business Archive contains over 130 textile-related collections and these provide evidence of Scotland’s rich and diverse textile heritage, from weaving and sewing in the home, to full scale mechanized factory textile production. These resources shed light on the entire lifecycle of textiles; from their design, production and manufacture, through their sale as a raw material, to their use in fashion, furnishings, theatre costume and as industrial textiles. We are also further enhancing our textile collections through our project Darning Scotland’s textile collections: recording, identifying and expanding knowledge about Scotland’s textile heritage. We have been awarded £91,800 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop our textile collections and the money will be used as part of the Darning Scotland’s Textile Heritage project to add items such as fabric sample books catalogues, industry tools, and clothes made from 19th and 20th century textiles and theatre costumes.

Textile dyeing: United Turkey Red Co Ltd

The pattern books in the United Turkey Red Co Ltd collection are some of our most visually stunning records. United Turkey Red (collection reference UGD 13) were by far the largest firm in the bleaching, finishing, dyeing and printing industry in Scotland and was formed during the 1890s. The company in fact became one of the largest textile firms in the world in the 19th century, combining international trading techniques and advanced chemical developments in the design and promotion of quality fabrics. The collection held by Archive Services includes: administrative records, staff records, financial records, and production records but the most beautiful items are the pattern books that include samples of dyed and printed fabric and record the different patterns that were produced by the company. The process of dying textiles ‘Turkey Red’ was a complicated one but produced a very vivid, and sought after, red colour.

Our textile collections provide great primary sources for research in many areas and the records of United Turkey Red are currently being used by Julie Wertz for her inter-disciplinary PhD project between the Textile Conservation Centre and Organic Chemistry: “Textile dyeing in late 19thC Glasgow. Interpreting and recreating the dye chemists’ experiments from lab to manufacture”. The archives are thrilled to help Julie in her fascinating research that brings together chemistry and textile history.

You can see some more of the fabulous Turkey Red fabric samples in our flickr set.

Glasgow Silk: Anderson & Robertson

In the summer of 2013 Archive services ran a Club 21 student placement to produce an exhibition in our reception area, and the theme of the exhibition was the Glasgow silk manufacturer: Anderson & Robertson (1877-1964). The student, Toni Georgieva, is an Art History Student who found the records of this Glasgow-based silk manufacturer fascinating. The exhibition told the history of the company and, more broadly, reflected Scotland’s place within the World’s business history.

Toni Georgieva arranging her exhibition

Toni Georgieva arranging her exhibition

Anderson & Robertson was formed in 1877 and the company later rented an old mill in Govan, Glasgow which was the first mill in Scotland for throwing pure silk. The company conducted business internationally with the export of goods and the wide range of products ensuring the firm’s success on the textile industry market. Trips to the USA provided the firm with an insight to innovative man-made fibres, such as rayon and nylon, as well as techniques of handling those fibres. Anderson and Robertson became one of the first businesses to use the Norcross Viscometer, a progressive system for measuring textile viscosity, thus managed to establish itself as a one of the leaders in the production of such fibres.

You can view a summary of the records in the collection here, which includes letter books, financial records, sales and production records, and photographs.

Dress & fashion: House of Fraser

In the area of Dress we have the fascinating collection of the House of Fraser: one of Britain’s leading department stores. House of Fraser was founded in 1849 as a small drapery shop on the corner of Argyle Street and Buchanan Street in Glasgow. The business expanded rapidly, acquiring some 200 different stores, and opening branches in many parts of the world.

Catalogue from the House of Fraser Collection 1937-38 (FRAS 313/22)

Catalogue from the House of Fraser Collection 1937-38 (FRAS 313/22)

In December 2011 archive services launched the on-line catalogue for the expansive House of Fraser collection which you can search here. The records held for each store within the House of Fraser collection include financial records, staff records, photographs of premises and displays, and also some fascinating brochures for products on sale. These brochures are a great record of the fashions of the day and the prices paid to follow the fashion!

The records have been used by various readers including social historians, genealogists, and students of fashion and art.

Contact us:

Find out about all of the textile collections at the Archives in our source guide. Please do visit us if you would like to consult any of them by e-mailing the Duty Archivist at: enquiries@archvies.gla.ac.uk

To learn more about dress and textiles in the University of Glasgow Special Collections please head on over to Sam’s post!


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  1. Dress and Textiles in Special Collections | University of Glasgow Library

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