Monday, February 09, 2009

Fabric Frivolity

Though my favorite kind of prints are geometrics and small patterns, I am taken with novelty prints- but none of those cheesy novelty prints, thank you very much. Some of my favorite novelty prints are from the 1920s and 30s. If they have a Deco vibe to them, then all the better. The problem that I have with many of these prints is that they can be difficult to use. Much better to use them on pillows or seat cushions rather than on large scale projects like curtains or sofas.

I recently became reunited with my copy of a Victoria and Albert book on novelty fabrics, and most of the patterns featured were dress fabrics. Aha! That's the way to use these prints. Carolina Herrera used some novelty prints in her Spring collection a few years ago, and the effect was utterly charming. Of course, you wouldn't want a closet full of these prints. That would be far too whimsical and would make mixing and matching way too difficult. But still, can't you see having a Summer dress made from one of these breezy fabrics?

"Sea Horses", cotton, Calico Printers' Association, England, 1936

"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" designed by Ralph Barton, crêpe de Chine, American, 1927. (Though I am a brunette, I do find the humor in this print!)

"Surfers", cotton, English, 1937

"Mothballs and Sugar", designed by Edward Steichen, crêpe de Chine, American, 1927

Image at top: "Masks" designed by Jean Cocteau, silk crêpe, French, 1938


  1. I would use "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and/or "Surfers" in a heartbeat! Love 'em!

  2. Anonymous9:37 AM

    Lovely post. The "Surfers" print is reminiscent of a print Carolina Herrera did a couple (maybe 3) years ago for one of her popular dresses.

  3. Very cute stuff. There are some excellent sellers on eBay that specialize in vintage novelty fabrics. I was just looking at one with hot air balloons that would be great for draperies for a boy's bedroom.

  4. Love the 'sea horses'.....they are fun!!

  5. I love the retro feel of Surfers", cotton, English, 1937!! It's great! Can't you see a pool house near the beach done with this??!

  6. "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" absolutely cracks me up. I love the Jean Cocteau print, but perhaps in a different color.

  7. i've been obsessed with cocteau since my mother gave me her copy of cocteau's dessins when i was thirteen. that said, i think masks is stunning!

    ps a link to the remarkable title Dessins ... the cocteau's lines are hypnotic : )

  8. I like the greens and yellows in the first two examples!

  9. i love those fabrics.

    i just was at the palm beach arts & antique show,
    i found a beautiful deco period fabric on a deco chair.

    it was just the eye of the peacock feather pattern, placed over and over in a balanced pattern.
    it was silk velvet.