Tactile textiles: Bringing to life the garments of the House of Fraser archives.

Guest blogpost by Casci Ritchie, a postgraduate student studying Dress and Textile Histories on placement in the University of Glasgow archive services. Casci has been working on digitising department stores catalogues from the House of Fraser archives and making the content more accessible online to researchers and students. Find Flickr albums of examples of textile swatches and colour illustrations found within the House of Fraser archives here

The John Falconer catalogues housed within the House of Fraser business archives are an excellent source for understanding twentieth century fashion. The Aberdeen based company first began business as a draper’s shop in 1788 and by 1929 the company had enjoyed rising success and had grown considerably in size, occupying a large store in fashionable Union Street.

The store would produce a spring, winter, Christmas and sales catalogue selling products ranging from womenswear, menswear, childrenswear to home furnishings. The catalogues offered potential customers a chance to peruse the latest fashions and included price and textile information. From there customers could mail order or visit the store based in Aberdeen to purchase their products.

Throughout the catalogues there are leaflets, trade cards and illustrations that include textile swatches from the period of 1930 to 1940. Although not included in every catalogue, these textile swatches are an incredible source in understanding the fabrics used within high street clothing in Scotland during the 1930s.

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Flannel textile swatch from John Falconer catalogue (date unkown) FRAS145-1-18

The swatches retain their vibrancy of colour and can bring to life the black and white illustrations seen for sale in the catalogues. Colours are described with names such as ‘asparagus’, ‘flame’ and ‘geranium’ which allow the mind to visualise the varying colours available of the garments. Not only would this inspire potential customers at the time, now it provides a visual reference for what was available for textile manufacturers and the actuality of colours popular during the era.

Tactility is encouraged with these samples, customers could feel the weight and texture of these swatches and from there select a purchase. Today for researchers, in particular dress historians and textile conservators, it can provide an insight into how these clothes would have felt on the body and the physical attributes of the textiles. These textile swatches will also provide a wealth of knowledge of costume designers to ensure authenticity of designs used in productions.

With advancements in textile manufacturing the 1930s embraced new technologies and produced a high volume of synthetic fabrics such as the regenerated cellulose fabric rayon still in production today. Examples of these synthetics fabrics are available with swatches of rayon taffeta and rayon crepe.

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Rayon textile sample sheet for quilts from John Falconer catalagoue FRAS145-1-17

Looking through the catalogues of Lincoln department store Mawer & Collingham I also came across some quality examples of Edwardian textiles. William Mawer originally started the company as a linen draper during the 1810-1820s and went on to enjoy successful trade as a wholesale and retail drapers. The catalogues surviving offer little or no information on price or sizing but do supply evocative textile swatches to entice the customer.


Patterned textile swatches from Mawer & Collingham (1913) FRAS1005-8

It is interesting to see the vast array of textiles used within the stores drapery department especially with the vibrant range of colours and printed patterns. The textile swatches often provide information of fabric qualities such as ‘Horrockses Flannelettes – Hygienic and durable…will not flare’ which can help us as researches with a greater understanding of fabrics that may not be manufactured today.


Textile swatches for tailoring department from Mawer & Collingham catalgoue (1911) FRAS1005-4

These textile samples can also offer us insight into the department store drapery and tailoring departments that were extremely popular in the twentieth century. Customer interaction is encouraged with ‘inquiries specially invited for patterns and quotations for Gowns for all descriptions’ showing an open relationship with the store and it’s customers. By using these examples of textiles and order forms a greater understanding of Scottish in house tailoring departments in the early twentieth century could be reached.

By digitising these catalogues and highlighting the unique textile swatches included within the archives, with hope more people will utilise these catalogues and use them to both inspire and validate further research and creative work for the future. Stay tuned for further posts about my findings within the catalogues of John Falconer and Mawer & Collingham.

To view some examples of textile swatches found in the John Falconer catalogue visit here and Mawer and Collingham examples can be viewed here.


Categories: Archive Services, Library

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