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This May, when I was in London I visited Liberty, a long-established department store in Regent Street in the West End shopping district. Liberty is one of my favourite places to shop in the world.
The first shop was opened in 1875 by Arthur Lazenby Liberty, selling ornaments, fabric and objets d’art from Japan and the East. Within a decade, Liberty became the most fashionable place to shop in London and Liberty fabrics were used for both clothing and furnishings.
In 1884 Liberty introduced the costume department into the Regent Street store, directed by Edward William Godwin (1833–86). Godwin was a distinguished architect and a founding member of the Costume Society in 1882. He and Arthur Liberty created in-house apparel to challenge the fashions of Paris.
This garment with its full sleeves and long, flowing silhouette owes much of its inspiration to Pre-Raphaelite dress. The gown consists of a flared front panel attached to an open, flowing robe which falls from pleats at the back. The front panel has a patch pocket on the right side which is hidden by the deep plush edging. The puffed sleeves, wide cuffs and velvet edgings are inspired by plain, loose 16th century gowns. The sunflower and pomegranate motif on the fabric was a recurring design on objects associated with the Aesthetic Movement. The subtle gold and brown tones were popular ‘artistic’ colours used in both dress and furnishing fabrics during the 1890s.
During the 1890s Arthur Lasenby Liberty built strong relationships with many famous English designers. Many of these designers practised the artistic styles known as Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau, and Arthur Liberty helped develop Art Nouveau through his encouragement of such designers. The company became associated with this new style, to the extent that in Italy, Art Nouveau became known as the Stile Liberty, after the London shop.
The current emporium was designed by Edwin T. Hall and his son Edwin S. Hall. They designed the building at the height of the 1920s fashion for Tudor revival. In 1924 Liberty as we know it today was constructed from the timbers of two ships: HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan. The frontage on Great Marlborough Street is the same length as the Hindustan. It is a Grade II* listed building.
The shop was engineered around three light wells that formed the main focus of the building. Each of these wells was surrounded by smaller rooms to create a homely feel. Many of the rooms had fireplaces and some still exist. The wells created a wonderful environment in which to drape exotic rugs and quilts, whilst the smaller rooms allowed the display of smaller items.
Everything about Liberty is beautiful. From the exterior . . . . .
To the interior and all of the exquisite things for sale.
Even the lifts have something beautiful to gaze upon.
And the views are special.
One of my favourite Art Deco buildings in England is Palladium House, also referred to as Ideal House or the National Radiator building. It is a gorgeous black granite clad building, with exotic Moorish-Persian style enamel on bronze polychrome, by the Birmingham Guild of Handicraft. Built in 1928 by Raymond Hood and Gordon Jeeves, it is an exuberant and exotic fantasy, a tantalizing taste of Babylon in London.
Anyhow, I have been wanting to start making clothes (aka wearable art) for a very, very long time. But to be honest, I’ve had very, very cold feet. Even though I can undauntedly make the most exquisite pieces of fibre art, I’ve never made an article of clothing! My Mom and her mother were amazing seamstresses, so perhaps I was a bit intimidated. Anyhow, in May, I bought some beautiful Liberty fabric to make skirts from.
I’ve been casting about for a dressmaking class for a few years now, to no avail. In March, I bought a very simple elastic waist skirt pattern from Meme, a tiny, cute as a button fabric shop in Exeter. I went in to ask about classes and the owner Katrina suggested I just have a go with a simple pattern. So I bought one of hers for £3, and some elastic. I have my 2 sewing machines at home and a Baby Lock Imagine overlocker which my very romantic husband bought me for Valentine’s Day. (Thank you again, my darling!)
It took me six months to summon up my courage. So today, which is the first day of my late summer hols, I made my first garment!
I am so proud of it! I wore it down to the Co-op when I got some wine for dinner. When Steve rang to say he won’t be home in time for dinner :-( I said ‘Guess what I made today!” and that I’ll be up and wearing my new skirt when he gets back around 11pm. It was very quick to make, once I figured out how to thread (and re-thread) my overlocker and figured out which stitch to use (4 thread overlock) for the seam. That took about 90 minutes! I also had to translate Katrina’s pattern into Imperial from Metric. Oh, and discover what seam allowance non-quilters use (3/8″). I did cut my fabric with a rotary cutter and mat. This old dog don’t need to learn too many new tricks at once!
So it was tiring, but FUN! I felt (and feel) such a sense of accomplishment. I don’t know what the fabric pattern is called though. It’s not in Liberty’s current Tana Lawn floral fabric collection. (I bought it on sale.) The closest I found is this one.
The fabric is such a perfect design and colour for this time of year. It’s the last great “Hurrah!” of summertime, with the mellow golds, warm greens and greys, deep blue and a scattering of rich reds of an Indian Summer. While I was sewing the fabric, I loved noticing all of the little perfect details – the tiny flower petals and stems, stamens and details on the leaves.
I’m hoping for some Indian Summer days over the next fortnight that I have off. Tomorrow, I plan to make something wonderful for dinner from these home grown tomatoes I was gifted. And who knows? Perhaps another skirt will magically appear!
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