Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Textile Designs of Dalgleish, Falconer & Co

Illustration: Dalgleish, Falconer & Co. Printed Calico, 1849.

The five designs illustrating this article were all printed by the Scottish company Dalgleish, Falconer & Co who were based in Glasgow. They were produced right in the middle of the nineteenth century, 1849 and 1850, and are an excellent example of good and well-balanced surface pattern.

Although the examples are perhaps a little worse for wear, they are after all samples that are now just over one hundred and sixty years old, they do give a good indication of some of the better decorative work that was available in Britain during this period. Interestingly all are limited in colour range, which perhaps makes them all the more appealing to a contemporary audience as they lack much of what many in mid-nineteenth century Britain saw as normal. The often bewilderingly and aggressively kaleidoscopic range of primary colours, fuelled by the introduction of chemical dyes, was added to the profusion of badly constructed three-dimensional illusional pattern work that was often produced by woefully unprofessional in house teams. The coming together of these two strands, chemical dyes and the industrial downgrading of pattern designers produced some of the worst pattern work ever produced.

Illustration: Dalgleish, Falconer & Co. Printed textile design, 1850.

Fortunately, there were also companies such as Dalgleish, Falconer & Co, who, while fully aware and comfortable with the industrial process, were also aware that finely balanced and harmoniously worked out pattern work was a means of long-term gain, rather than short-term sensationalism. Interestingly, all of the pattern work shown in these five examples is organically based, with no indication as to any gothically inspired motifs, even though this was a period where the gothic movement really started to accrue a powerful fashionability. However, the lack of geometrically based decoration may have more to do with the fact that all of the examples illustrated were intended for fashion and therefore were produced as specific dress fabric.

Illustration: Dalgleish, Falconer & Co. Printed textile design, 1850.
It is interesting to note that there has always been an appreciably wide gap between the sensibilities of designing surface pattern for the fashion industry and that for interiors. It is not just a matter of scale, fashion fabrics tend to work on a much smaller scale with motifs being directly proportional to the smaller human figure, it is also a matter of compositional subject and the difference in weight of fabric. Geometrically inspired Gothic motifs and generalised pattern work would have been difficult to have blended with the human figure. However, this has not always been the case and there are areas where the geometric works, but on a much simplified level as in checks, plaids and tartans. However, this did not stop a certain amount of inapropriately bold candy coloured vertical and horizontal stripes being used in fashion. It has to be remembered that mid-nineteenth century fashion was still very much produced on a hand made and largely amateur basis and therefore any fabric could conceivably be used as dress fabric if the buyer so wished. However, a fashion fabric also had to hang well and cover easily and therefore heavy furnishing fabrics were not ideal, as anyone who has ever tried to work interior fabrics into costume will no doubt understand.

Illustration: Dalgleish, Falconer & Co. Printed textile design, 1850.
Although this may well put a perspective on the textile work produced by Dalgleish, Falconer & Co, it does not change the fact that the design work is extremely well thought out and in some cases originally imaginative. The last two pieces in particular show an interesting use of positive and negative space with an almost abstracted arrangement, although there are floral sprigs in place on at least the last piece shown. In some respects, there are some aspects of these examples of pattern work that could be reminiscent of mid-twentieth century British pattern work, particularly with the emphasis on the abstracted last two pieces and the imaginatively textured first piece.

Illustration: Dalgleish, Falconer & Co. Printed textile design, 1850.
That at least some of these examples could have been placed one hundred years after their initial creation, does really go to show that there is rarely anything new in the realm of the decorative arts, particularly when concerned with surface pattern. However, this does not mean that surface pattern decoration is necessarily, repetitive, cyclical or even plagiaristic. What it does say however, is that the vocabulary of pattern work is interchangeable, dynamic and constantly reenergising both itself and the decorative arts in general as well as the world it inhabits. Pattern has been with the human species since its early development and it will no doubt be still with us throughout our future development. That it comes in a seemingly bewildering amount of incarnations and varieties, crossing all cultures and geographical areas of the planet, makes it all the more attractive and alluring.

Reference links:
The Pattern Sourcebook: A Century of Surface Design
Surface Pattern Design: A Handbook of How to Create Decorative and Repeat Patterns for Designers and Students
Textile Design: The Complete Guide to Printed Textiles for Apparel and Home Furnishings (Practical Craft Books)
Textile Designs: 200 Years of Patterns for Printed Fabrics Arranged by Motif, Colour, Period and Design
376 Decorative Allover Patterns from Historic Tilework and Textiles (Dover Pictorial Archive Series)
Patterns for Textiles
Textile Design Book: Understanding and Creating Patterns, Using Texture, Shape and Colour (Textiles)
Pattern Design: Applications and Variations
Patterns for Textiles (Victoria and Albert Colour Books)
20th Century Pattern Design: Textile and Wallpaper Pioneers
Carpet and Textile Patterns
Historic Textile Patterns in Full Color: 212 Illustrations (Dover Pictorial Archive Series)

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