Project 6 – Research Point 1

My fabric collection:

I have a fair amount of furnishing fabrics and have been researching them on-line to see what the various types are made of.  Obviously I didn’t keep an exact record of this when I bought them.

Left: A range of velvet style raised pile fabrics in linear and woven patterns. Mainly  nylon surface with a blend of polyester and cotton backings.

Right: Plain velvet fabrics on various backings including rubber backed, tightly woven cotton muslin and woven synthetic – probably nylon or polyester.

Left:  An assortment of tightly woven fabrics, some with a woven textural surface.  A variety of 100% cotton, cotton/linen, linen Burlap.

Below Right: 70% polyester 30% cotton stretch upholstery fabric.

Below left: Cotton string, hessian, cotton and cotton polyester blend open weave fabrics. Green sinamay from Abaca plant probably from the Philippines.

Right:  An assortment of 100% cotton, polyester/cotton/olefin blend, polyester/tencil blend and a couple I can’t place or find on the internet.

All research I’ve done on the above products leads me to believe that the majority of them are manufactured in China.

My favourites are the heavier weight, tightly woven cottons and cotton blends.  They stitch well, retain their robustness and have a crisp look to them.  However, I am only looking at furnishing fabrics here, I do have favourites elsewhere.

Visiting a historic house:

I was extremely lucky  to be granted an invitation for a private tour of Old Government House in Parramatta, Sydney, by the Historic Houses Soft Furnishings Group.  The group currently has 12 members and they meet weekly to work on both restoring old furnishings and also to create authentic copies of items long lost.  They have been operating for around 10 years.

Frankly, I could write a short book on what I saw there.  However, to my good fortune, one has already been produced by National Trust House Series.  The write-up inside the front cover says:
A team of volunteers recreates the interiors of Old Government House to reflect the tastes and styles of Mrs Macquarie in 1821.  Based on research by Dr (now Professor) James Broadbent and Elizabeth Wright, specialists in nineteenth century interiors.

I have chosen a few items to showcase:

These curtains are in the breakfast room of the residence.  The original fabric would have been 100% cotton chintz and come from either India or England. Generally speaking, silk was far too expensive for the colonies.  After extensive research into just what would have been available in the period 1810-1821 new curtains were made in 2002/2003 using 100% cotton from the USA.  The fringing was especially interesting and the volunteers have covered each hanging wooden bead with two colours of thread making a striped pattern.  The curtains are lightly vacuumed using a special cleaner manufactured for antique and fragile items.

This bed is amazing.  Known as the ‘Whalan’ bed, the four posts and the bottom rails are the originals and it belonged to Governor and Mrs Macquarie.  It is a Full Tester (meaning that the top frame spans the length of the bed base).  The hand sewn dimity stripe hangings, reproduced in 2005, are trimmed with a knotted, trellised fringe of soft cotton which edges the tester.

The coloured palempore – bed coverlet – is the original 1810 cotton fabric from India and it has been continually worked on since 2007 with small darning and repairs to stop it completely disintegrating.  It has a beige background and features teal, cobalt blue and autumnal blue/red.

This photograph shows an original bedspread which is now in conservation and only the picture is available to the public.  The fabric was bought from Beard Watson in London in 1927 and was silk faille water weave moiré in cornflower blue.  Faille means corded.

The reproduction is currently underway.  The fabric being used today is polyester faille moiré and has come from England.  The item is in several sections, top, sides and skirt with gimp being hand couched in a pre-designed pattern before being constructed.  The project includes a bolster, cushions, curtains and pelmets to match.

I couldn’t resist including this chair.  There were many horsehair chair covers but all were in black except this one.  This particular chair is an original Side Chair c1830 and is made from Tasmanian cedar.  Whilst these items were originally covered in horsehair, after considerable wear, they were later recovered in leather.

This has now been removed and the horsehair has been replaced restoring the chairs to their original look. The fabric was imported at huge expense but well worth it in my view.  The colours within this seat were stunning.  Unfortunately the ladies didn’t know where the horsehair came from.

A fabric peculiar to my area:

With a ferocious sun in Australia and a nation which leans towards multiple outdoor sports it seems natural that we try to protect ourselves from harmful rays whilst still being able to enjoy our lifestyle.  There is a need for advanced sun protection that doesn’t require constant reapplication, or wear away and wash off.  A fabric was developed and designed here around 25 years ago which aimed to fulfil that role.

Originally it was rated UVP 30+ (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) and was created using fabrics specially woven with UV absorbing chemicals.  These days the fabrics continue to be produced but with a higher UVP of 50+ and a wide range of clothing and accessories are available for every member of the family.

Whilst most of us associate this clothing with the Cancer Council of Australia, who are huge sponsors and tirelessly market sun protection items, they are also available widely through pharmacies and outdoor pursuit retailers.  Schools also promote SunSmart Schoolwear which protects the kids whilst keeping them cool and comfortable in the heat.

In fact, the amazing thing about wearing these clothes is how lightweight and comfortable they are.  Jackets, shirts and the like are made from 100% polyester, fully treated.  The fabric is breathable and draws the perspiration through the weave which keeps the person cool.

Swimwear is made from 100% nylon elastine and is specially treated for blockout.  Swimwear includes not only swimming costumes but also a number of shirts and tunics with either long or short sleeves.

I’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg here in relation to sun protection because the range is far and wide and also includes leisure wear, clothes for gardening, golf and other outdoor sports, hats, sunglasses, umbrellas, bags and more.

Whilst the designing and development for the Australian market continues to be done here the items are made in China.  The NSW branch of the Cancer Council not only stock their own shops and other retail outlets in Australia but they also export to America, China (interesting), Singapore, the Middle East and ….. yes, even the UK.

‘simple elegance’ Old Government House in 1821, compiled and edited by Angela Le Sueur, National Trust of Australia (NSW), Sydney, 2000.
Cancer Council of Australia
Cancer Council of NSW, plus their retail warehouse in Penrith and .


About Claire B

I'm a passionate printmaker, paper-maker and a poor sketcher (which I'm working to improve). I've stitched from early childhood and am a perpetual student, loving learning and participating in everything creative.
This entry was posted in Assignment 3: Creating shapes and three-dimensional forms, Project 6, Textiles 1: A Creative Approach. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Project 6 – Research Point 1

  1. penmcam says:

    This is a great post – lots of interesting points particular to your part of the world. From my experience buying upholstery supplies in England, just about all horsehair comes from China these days. Australian sunsuits are appearing on the beaches of Europe nowadays – almost exclusively on children.

    • penmcam says:

      I may have misunderstood the use of horsehair – is the decorative topfabric woven from horsehair or are you talking about the padding underneath, which is how we use horsehair.

      • Claire B says:

        Hi Penny. Yes, the decorative topfabric is the horsehair. I was told that it is purchased by the metre but is only about 40cm wide. I’m guessing that is the length of horse tail or mane hair once the weaving and finishing has been done. Close up you could see every single individual hair, it was incredible – and such wonderful colours. I would think china or India might be the origin. I had met Professor James Broadbent, who organised this project, earlier in the day but unfortunately not again after I had seen the chair. So I didn’t get a chance to ask him any further questions.
        The whole day was a great experience.

  2. Helen says:

    Great report, Claire. Well worth your trip to Parramatta obviously.

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