Thursday, February 3, 2011

Swatch Books at Moda

In the last post I wrote about my road trip
to Moda/United Notions headquarters in Dallas.
My major goal was to go through the antique swatch books
the design department has been collecting.

They've bought several books from various mills,
collections of samples printed, say in 1904.

Here's a book with swatches from the mid 1870s.

My French is rudimentary but I think the label says the book was bound in the textile city of Mulhouse in France.  

The books are full of numbered swatches, some related in color.

Others are related in print style.
Many would make excellent reproductions.
It's surprising to see these color combinations that don't fit into our idea of period fabric.
Some of the pages mix cotton prints with wool/silk combination prints in which you'd find brighter color.

This mid-century page looked like wool/cotton mixes (delaines)
I love the red stripe on green contrasted with the green stripe on red.

It's hard to believe these are mid-19th century colors.
Mint green and magenta.
Could that be in the infamous poison green?

Turkey red cottons with greens from overdyed blues and yellows.

Many of the pages contain sketches and paintings of the print rather than the prints themselves.
Can you see the very faint pencil lines covering the paper here? The artist has painted in a color idea for this print that looks like jewelry on top of seaweed.

This is an unfinished sketch for a paisley.
That's my pinky finger for scale.

These sketches are called croquis in French
(pronounced crow'-key)
The fashion industry has adopted that word for a painted design.

Here's a beauty--- a stripe with a daisy or marguerite--- from 1864

A foulard style floral from
April 1875

I don't paint croquis for my fabrics.

I collect old swatches and scan them.
I find most of mine in quilt blocks and tops.

The swatch books are expensive. They can go for thousands at auctions.
You might ask your local art or history museum if they have any textile sample books.
Here's a page on German swatchbooks. Scroll down for pictures

We'll see what reproduction collections come out of my trip. From idea to print it usually takes over a year.


  1. Thanks so much for showing us these treasures! When I see gorgeous old fabrics, crisp and clean, I just want bolts of the real thing so badly . . . I actually feel pangs of sadness that there is no store where they're all lined up for purchase today. (But you can help ease the pain with your repros!).

  2. Thank you so very much for sharing your discoveries, the fabrics are all so very interesting. LOVE the pink rose. We certainly need more beautiful rose prints!

  3. What a treasure trove - I covet several of these designs!

  4. How amazing to see the original sketches and fabrics! Can't wait to see what comes out of your research.

  5. Thank you so very much for giving us a peek at those books. I could spend hours looking at the old fabrics. They are an invaluable resource for understanding the color and print fashions of the day and seeing how they change and evolve over time. Okay, I am gushing.

  6. What a fabulous trip that must have been, like a kid in a candy store.
    I agree with you, I love the red stripe on green. I also really like the white background stripe floral under neat the red stripe. I could just see a wonderful light summer CW day dress in that or a wrapper.
    The possibilities are endless for designs with that history of color combinations of mint green and magenta. I can hardly wait to see what you come up with for your fabrics. I know they will be wonderful.

  7. That must've been an amazing trip, just to be able to look through the books. Thank you so much for sharing such a wonderful adventure, certainly wouldn't mind a couple yards of most of those fabrics in my closet

  8. What an amazing trip and look into the past. Just fascinating and really interesting.

  9. Oh Barbara! Thank you thank you thank you for sharing your experiences and your knowledge! It's wonderful! I'm in awe!

  10. I love the insider's look you are giving us! Can't wait to see what you come up with

  11. Fascinating images! There's a few prints in those books I'd love to use - especially the two turkey red florals. Those are just delicious!

  12. Seeing the original colors must be wonderful! Thanks for the photos.

    I saw the "seaweed" look in a lot of architectural carvings when I lived in Southern England.

  13. Thankyou for sharing these wonderful little fabric secrets that have been hidden away for so long, hopefully we'll see a new collection from these swatches. I too particularly loved the magenta and green, so unusual!!!

  14. What fun to go through the old books and see the fabrics woman used years ago. Great inspiration for new looks.


  15. Wow! I want every one. Glad you're designing fabric. Can't wait to see what you come up with next.

  16. what a treat to look through those swatch books. How you decide on what your next fabric line will include?

  17. Thank you for the posting. Truly a treat to get to see inside those swatch books.

  18. How exciting!! I can't wait to see what fabric lines come out of this!! You must be really enjoying this. What a treat! Thank you for sharing.

  19. Very informative post. A step back in time.

  20. Oh my what I would give to be a mouse in your pocket to see these in person. I think todays quilters who like to use Repros of vintage fabrics might be surprised at the different color combinations...the mint and red...for example.
    I hope to see some of these in future fabric lines

  21. Wow, most interesting post. The closet I will probably ever get to the real thing in terms of swatch book. I keep my own swatch book...a collection of every piece of fabric I have ever used in a quilt. It's neat to be able to look back and see what I have used over the past years.

  22. Very exciting post! I loved seeing the vintage swatches! Probably the most exciting blog post I've seen in months! Thanks for sharing!

  23. Love your historical reproductions. I love history and have a lot of your books. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and passion.
    Sue N

  24. Hello Barbara...if you would, please suggest a book that would help me in starting to research civil war quilting...we are making a quilt for our living history group...The Magnetic Telegraph Company...I would like to give an overview in talking to the spectators as we hand-quilt at events thru the seasons. thank you
    Sherri Stricker