22 November 2015

Mid-18th century fabric samples

A new book showcasing a whole 1500 Swedish fabric samples from the mid-18th century has just been published. This is not a proper review, because I haven't seen the book in person yet (Christmas is over a month away!), so the only information I have is the publisher's presentation. But I'm so excited about it that I wanted to get the word out there straight away.


In the early 18th century, Sweden mostly relied on imported fabrics. The government wanted to encourage the forming of a national textile industry, and started taxing (and eventually banning) fabric imports. An agency called Manufakturkontoret (the Manufacturing Office) was created for lending money to the manufacturers, and monitoring and supporting them in other ways. Researchers have known for decades that there are fabric samples in the Manufacturing Office's files, but they haven't been published other than the odd photo here and there - until now!

Click to see the delicious fabrics on the cover!

The book "Från kläde till silkesflor"

(I.e. "From broadcloth to silk gauze".) Main authors are Elisabet Stavenow-Hidemark and Klas Nyberg. The book is available from Swedish online bookstores—internationally, I've only seen it listed on Amazon UK so far (it was published less than two weeks ago). (The publisher has a minimum order of 5 copies, but their website doesn't say whether they ship internationally.)

Three entire collections of fabric samples are shown; the first is from the early 1740s, the second and largest is from 1751, and the third is a 1766 collection of silk and wool (worsted?) samples. These collections show the wide range of fabrics produced at the time; a total of 1500 samples. "Everyday fabrics, not royal splendor", the description says.

Earlier, I've just seen a single little 1950s black and white photo from the 1751 collection; it showed a page full of cotton samples woven in white and a color, in several different weaves and designs. It made me really curious about what else was in there, and then a year or two ago I read about the plans to publish these collections.

Are these collections relevant outside Sweden?

For comparison, when the fabric samples in Anders Berch's collection were published 25 years ago ("1700-talstextil—18th century textiles"), its international relevance was obvious as the collection included plenty of samples from both Europe, India and China. Therefore, the book had both Swedish and English text throughout.

But the current book only covers fabrics woven in Sweden; does that mean it's only of Swedish interest? No, I don't think so. At the time, Sweden was trying to substitute imported fabrics with nationally produced goods, and the aim was clearly to produce the same types of fabrics that would otherwise be imported from Germany, Holland, Britain, France, etc. Apparently, many of the fabrics have name, width and price stated - and the fabric names of the time were international, even if spellings varied. So although the book seems to be in Swedish only, I don't think that should deter those who are interested in period fabrics.

I'm delighted that this book is now available, and I look forward to reading it!


  1. Thank you for your book tip! Mine arrived yeasterday, and I have to say it was money well spent!

    1. Thanks, I'm glad to hear you love it too!

      If you get stuck on some Swedish words, you're welcome to ask me. Some of the fabric names have non-standard spellings (and might not be in a dictionary anyway).