Monday, November 2, 2015

Fashion and Virtue: Textile Patterns and the Print Revolution, 1520-1620

Schon newes Modelbuch 1608
It isn't often that you hear about an exhibit about textiles and embroidery being launched by a Prints department but in this case I am really thrilled.  The MET has just opened an exhibition (October 20th, 2015 - January 10, 2016) in the Robert Lehman Wing (Galleries 964-965) and it is the first time since 1935 that their hugely important collection of pattern books has been displayed.  Care has been taken to match up patterns with contemporary pieces of embroidery, portraits and fragments.

These one-to-one examples of how the patterns resulted in embroideries of the time or were interpreted by the Needle and Bobbin Club in the 20th century are highly interesting.  The curators have this to say about the exhibition focus:
During the first quarter of the 16th century, the market for publications of textile patterns quickly expanded and the exchange of designs and ideas was established between Italy and the countries north of the Alps. The small booklets, each containing a few dozen pattern designs, were published on a regular basis, their publishers proudly advertising the novelty of the patterns they had collected from all over Europe. The books became highly influential sources that both instructed and inspired many in the arts of making embroideries, weavings, and lace, as can be seen in surviving costumes and textiles of the period. Although pattern books are now often perceived as mere auxiliary tools for those not clever enough to come up with their own designs, the illustrated title pages, introductions, and publishers’ notes in these prints and booklets suggest a function and appreciation that was far more complex. The wide reach of these publications meant they were easily adapted for educational purposes, instructing women and young textile makers in the art while simultaneously dispensing advice on proper conduct and a virtuous lifestyle.
Devon in front of a pattern vs example
set on the wall
If you love embroidery of the period, you are always looking for patterns and most likely have come upon leafs of these books reprinted in something you own.  But viewing them makes you very frustrated to know that this one image may be one of hundreds in the book it came from that you can't leaf through.  When taking out the books and choosing for exhibition, the curators and conservation staff made the amazing decision to scan each page and put them on the online collections page for you and I to be able to view.  I almost wanted to simultaneously cry and jump up and down when Devon (assistant at the MET and worked on the Plimoth jacket lace) emailed me to tell me this.  I can't tell you how many times in the past I have seen a whitework sampler and know the pattern for the reticella might be in a pattern book or when a fragment of a page was used as a lining and being able to figure out which book it was from would be a clue.  To have hundreds of these pages now at our finger tips is a huge blessing.  To find them, go to and type in 'pattern book'.  Then click the button for 'on display' which will get you to about 159 entries.  You can then scan for those in Gallery 964/965 and click on the object.  Click on '+Additional Images' below the picture that comes up and you can chose to view each page of the book!  I saw bobbin lace patterns, filet patterns, reticella, embroidery, nightcaps, and it goes on!
MET publication for exhibit

Sometimes what is even more important is what is not in them.  That is the case when thinking about English embroidery that may have been dominated by independent draftspersons and not pattern books for direct transfer.  When you can't see what is in the books - you can't say anything definitive!

To top everything else - there is a publication!!  How often can we say that these days!  The MET Bulletin will be all about this in November and can be preordered.   I am getting my copy in the mail and will be ordering an extra in case!  $14.95.

I have to add a few images below to entice you to either visit the show or check out the images online.  I just love this frontispiece.  It says it all with the lady on the right consulting her pattern book while working on her collar.

There are many beautiful embroideries of the period out for display during this show as well so it is a double yum!!  I will be there in December!  Can't wait.


New Modelbuch 1615


  1. Oh how I wish I lived close enough to visit!!!! So glad there is on line information and a publication coming out!!!!!! Thanks for sharing ;0

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