The Textile Manufactures of India Vols I, II, V & VII (1866)
A selection of Indian sample books by John Forbes Watson are on display in the Gulbenkian Gallery at the Whitworth. The volumes entitled The Textile Manufactures of India are part of the complex history of cotton and its global trade.
The books, containing annotated fabric samples, were compiled and disseminated to aid the Victorian textile industry, whose centre was based in Lancashire. By studying the sophisticated and harmonious patterns of South Asian textiles, the aim was to understand the market’s taste, replicate the fabrics cheaply using mechanized manufacturing techniques, and trade back to them, thus undercutting Indian hand woven fabrics. The Victorian urge to catalogue and create taxonomies, extended to fabrics here, arguably may have preserved otherwise lost patterns, even though to create the books Forbes Watson cut up many museum specimens.
You may notice patterns from the John Forbes Watson sample books featured in Liz Rideal‘s video installation ‘Drop Sari’ – changing patterns illuminating the simple white suspended sari fabric. Rideal was fascinated by the sample books and mentions them in a discussion with textile experts Aditi Ranjan and Romanie Jaitly as part of her Indian audio Journal. Liz Rideal’s work and the sample book display case are both displayed in the same gallery space.
A project by the Harris Museum in Preston for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad allows users to browse high resolution scans of the pages of a set of the Forbes-Watson volumes gifted to the city of Preston. This cataloguing project is now online and the project involved a number of young co-curators as part of the ‘Stories of the World’ project. An exhibition inspired by these sample books is display at the Harris Museum until 20 June 2012, entitled Global Threads: Asian Textiles & Fashion Today The Harris in Preston is one of six North West museums (including the Whitworth) currently examining the history of textile industry in the area, and is well worth a visit!
You may also learn more about the Forbes Watson volumes at the Victoria & Albert Museum site.
Lawrence Roberts, one of our Visitor Service Assistants at the Whitworth asked Elaine Sheldon, Collection Care and Conservation Technician for more information on the sample volumes and the manner in which they are displayed in COTTON: Global Threads. Here’s what he discovered:
The binding style of the pattern books on display in the Cotton exhibition is characteristic of the period. The books are quarter bound. The boards are covered in green buckram and the spine in green leather, skiver labels have been on-laid on to the spine. The buckram is blind tooled and the titles are tooled in gold. The books are bound with a hollow spine. The leaves are paper which has been guarded and sewn to form the book block.
To ensure the books are supported while they are exhibited an individual support has been made for each volume. The supports are made using museum board which is acid free and covered using a fabric which has been tested to ensure it is chemically inert and suitable for use in the display of historic material.
Each book is opened at the page which is to be exhibited and supported using plastazote (inert foam) supports. The volume is openly opened as wide as necessary so that the binding and sewing structure is not strained. The open profile is drawn out on Perspex and the book support is constructed using this profile.
The Lost sample books
Lubaina Himid‘s series of paintings and collages are inspired by the notion of sample books, as she was intrigued by the idea that so many of them were discarded with the demise of the textile industry in Manchester. Her pieces on display in the South gallery depict imaginary items from a ‘lost sample book’, derived from imagination and elements from African kangas in her personal collection and that of the Whitworth Gallery.