My introduction to Liberty’s Cotton Tana Lawn began about 35 years ago on a first visit to Britex located in San Francisco, CA. I was looking for cotton and ended up on the floor with bolts and bolts of italian, swiss and Tana Lawn. I was mesmerized by the visually stimulating color showcasing the prints of Liberty. As I slowly caressed the softness of tana lawn, my love affair with these “art fabrics,” coined by Arthur Lasenby Liberty, began.
While at Britex, an English gentleman named Edward introduced me to the Liberty’s many bolts of art fabrics. On my return visits to the store, I would look for Edward. Edward educated me on Liberty. He mentioned, “The original Tana Lawn cotton came from Lake Tana in East Africa.” The cotton from this region was an ultra-long staple cotton without the use of crease-resistant chemicals or irritating allergens. On one of my visits, much to my disappointment, Edward was no longer at Britex. I began researching Liberty and its beginning.
I must digress for a moment…Recently, I’ve discovered Edward disappeared many years ago from Britex because he opened his own store in San Francisco, called Edward’s Unusual Fabrics. Sadly, Edward has since passed away. Though his son sold truck loads of fabric to one of my local fabric stores. The vintage Linton tweed I used for tailoring class last semester, came from Edward’s Unusual Fabrics. I wear a little piece of Edward’s legacy.
Getting back to Liberty fabrics, I’ve done brief research on a few in my collection. The information regarding my fabric was found on the Liberty of London website: https://www.libertylondon.com/
Felix and Isabelle, the paisley print, is derived from a dress fabric design which originally based on an archival paisley shawl drawing, the Felix and Isabelle, print joined the classic Tana Lawn collection in 2013. The bolt second from the bottom, is Strawberry Thief, printed in Liberty’s Italian Mill. Strawberry Thief was first printed by William Morris in 1883. This print was part of a group incorporating animals with flowers. Introduced as a furnishing fabric for Liberty in 1979 it depicts birds stealing fruit within Morris’s Oxfordshire garden. The bolt on top is Dog and Dragon Design, a Liberty block print based on a Chinese design c. 1900. Still in use, this design was converted to screen printing. Hera, flowing out of the Chinese vase, given to me by my mother-in-law, named after the Greek goddess associated with peacocks. The bird feathers were a fashionable Aesthetic Movement motif during the last quarter of the 19th century.
I enjoy learning about Liberty’s history, and the significant part these fabrics played in the history of the visual culture of fashion. But most of all, the part Edward played in my history.