Darren Clarke blogs about the the historic origins of our new fabrics, White by Vanessa Bell and Clouds by Duncan Grant.
If the radical nature of Vanessa Bell’s work is ever questioned, just point the doubter in the direction of White, her fabric design from 1913 for the Omega Workshops. A more graphic depiction of the new ethos of Bloomsbury living could not be found. The spidery and wilful geometric grid holds the design together, whilst blobs of colour dance on the surface.
Even the name of the fabric references its radical nature, probably being called after Amber Blanco White, a socialist and feminist suffragette who lived at the top of 33 Fitzroy Square, also home to the Omega Workshops. White had attended Newnham College in Cambridge and her two daughters would later attend Vanessa Bell’s short-lived summer school at Charleston in 1917.
The original would have been available in six different colourways and printed on linen in the Normandy town of Maromme. To our knowledge, this textile has never been commercially available since the demise of the Omega Workshops in 1919.
In contrast to White is Duncan Grant’s Clouds, commissioned by Allan Walton in 1932. The design is a crowded weather map of Charleston motifs: dashes and dots, circles and cross-hatching glide across the fabric, jewel like colours glowing against a comforting and stable brown ground. An original curtain made up of the material hangs in the Dining Room at Charleston, printed on Rayon.
This was Grant’s most abstract design for Allan Walton Textiles, utilising eight colours in the printing process and was printed at The Little Dye Works, near Manchester by Walton’s brother, Roger.
The new issue of fabrics are printed on a mix of 33% Cotton, 55% linen and 12% nylon with a characteristic “slub” (an occasional thickness of the yarn) that gives the material a natural and homely feel. They are intended for upholstery and curtains, though we hope that you will find all sorts of uses for them.
They are also available as an oil cloth in cotton bounded with PVC. Again, let your imagination run wild! All the fabrics are £55 metre and available through the online shop or in person at Charleston. The shop is open every Saturday and Sunday up to 17th December, 11am – 4pm.
by Dr Darren Clarke, Rausing Head of Collections, Research and Exhibitions at Charleston