A look back to fabric design – Artist Textiles at the London FTM

Ben Nicholson rug
Slinky, hooked wool rug by Ben Nicholson, 1933

I found out about this show just casually browsing the internet or something to do when my folks were over last time. I quickly filled with excitement: fabrics & art together!

I was quite intrigued about the time period selected for this show, as it seemed a bit random: 1940 to 1976. Having said that, the first room is dedicated to the beginning of artist-designed textiles that covers from the 1910 to the 40s. It briefly covers artists like Popova, Delaunay and Dufy and I have to say, I would liked to see way more examples from this period. I especially loved the shapes and colour palette, such as in the rug picture above. Also, I think the fact that Popova’s textile and fashion designs were the only ones in history to actually be conceived for the masses should have been highlighted. Personally, I would have liked a greater insight into this period and also some explanation about why it had been left out of the main show.

Below one of my favourite patterns in the show:

Moth balls and sugar cubes
Mothballs and Sugarlumps, printed silk deisgned by photographer Edward Steichen for Stehli Silks, 1927.

After this introduction to the subject, you go through to the bigger room where is the main body and focus of the show. In this room, the mass production of artist textiles come to live in its greatest splendour, showcasing examples of finished  products and raw pieces of fabric directly off the bolt. There are a very interesting series of silk squares that especially caught my eye as their shape seemed to provide artists with a perfect canvas for textile design.  There are examples from Dali, Matisse, Moore and Delaunay and I found the one by Vertes especially outstanding. I loved the fact that despite being over 70 years old, their patterns remained  modern and wearable in today’s fashion, which is not easily achievable.

Silk square by Vertes

In my opinion, the most outstanding examples of textile designed in this show come from the hand of Warhol, Steinberg, Rhodes and Rombola, stealing all the merit from other designs, especially to the busy patters from the 50s. These latter ones just seemed to my eye mere translations from traditional paintings into fabric, without having any special consideration to their function. They are busy, grey and look old, and would perfectly fit in the most average of living rooms. In contrast, the ones by the artists mentioned above, are full of life and colours, with patters that inspire its use and still resulting cutting edge and slightly unbearable still today. Having said that, the finish garments made of this fabrics looked pretty awesome. These are just some examples:


Picasso’s textiles also have a main role of this show and seemed to gather the most attention from the public. Certainly, the ski cloths and dresses are something to talk about, but being a Spaniard myself, I found the patterns a bit too “typical Spanish” for my liking.

Overall, I really enjoy this show and I found some of the pieces really inspiring, especially since I am starting a textile printing course on the 1st of March. It made me realise that even the craziest of patterns can actually work really well when printed on fabrics and on finished garments, and I will definitely be bearing this in mind when designing my own textiles over the coming weeks.

Do let me know your thoughts if you go and see it!



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