Arts and Crafts Textiles – Book Review

I might be the least qualified person on earth to review this book. So now you know.

This book by Ann Wallace is NOT a how-to craft book. It is more of an art history book. I enjoyed it immensely, though I am not generally interested in art history. Here are some ideas I gleaned:

1. Victorian clutteredness was a result of mass-produced goods becoming available. Suddenly, a bunch of stuff was affordable to the middle class, so they bought a whole lot of it and cluttered up the house. Sort of a nouveau riche thing, yes? I have tried to love Victorian interiors, but I can only love them in pictures. Ick, so many dust collectors and ruffles. ( Yeah, I’m sure I’m oversimplifying.  I’ll probably go read something about Victorian design and then I’ll fall all in love with it. But for the moment, ignorance is bliss. Or maybe I should say ignorance is dislike?  I live in a very small space and have an aversion to filling up space with non-useful stuff.  I like everything to be earning its keep and to have few single-task items.)

2. In reaction to the lack of restraint in Victorian design, several schools of art began to emphasize clean lines and brighter colors. There was a political leaning also, in placing value on one’s own handwork and erasing the distinction between high art and low art.

3. Simply decorated, useful textiles were one manifestation of this philosophy. Affordability to regular people was valued, and was most applicable to simple textiles (since not everyone can afford custom furniture, right?). The style is called Arts & Crafts. Bungalow homes are an architectural expression of this design philosophy.

4. In Europe, the political overtones of the movement were quickly lost. European Arts and Crafts textiles tended to use expensive materials and were professionally made, and so were of very high quality. They are valued by collectors

5. New manufacturing techniques made consistently spun and colorfast threads more available on a broad scale. In America, this led to national advertising from thread companies. National advertising from thread companies made women’s magazines affordable. Kits for embroidery in the new design aesthetic were sold widely from the magazines.

6. As a result, American Arts & Crafts embroidery was widespread, (and not very well-defined). Since it was mostly done by homemakers, the quality of the work is variable and it has not been highly valued by collectors. Materials remained basic and inexpensive.

Only one mention of tatting – that a very simple tatted edge was “acceptable.” Not surprising. Tatting lends itself to Victorian-ness, doesn’t it?  Many of the traditional tatting designs I’ve seen are for doilies.  Doilies to me are the essence of Victorian.  I don’t object to them, but man.  They gotta be limited, ya know?  I am happy to see people thinking of other applications for tatting as well.  It seems it is really a developing art.

I have zero interest in collecting, but I am attracted to the designs and have a natural tendency to value handwork. And I do love me some surface embroidery.  I’m moving (slowly) closer to embroidering some dish towels.  Or stickin’ a tatted corner on one.


About sayingthings

K lives in the US with her man and kiddos, knits, cans, dehydrates, bakes bread, (but doesn't cook regular food, particularly), crochets, spins, gardens, studies for a degree that never seems to end, and um, works. Sometimes she wastes time online. Also -- and family, she's looking at you here -- sometimes she swears and says things you might not agree with. But she still loves you.

Posted on May 7, 2009, in Books. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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