At Liberty to Say

Peoples! Did you know there's a new book out about Liberty in the 1950s and 1960s?

To say that I want it would be an understatement. Luckily, I've pre-ordered it on Amazon (Amazon.uk also had it, but has sold out) and soon, soon, a copy will be on the way to me. (I can't believe they didn't find me and offer to send a review copy; somebody at that publisher needs a quick refresher course in online marketing, if you ask me.)

And in other fantastic Liberty news, Anna Buruma, the archivist for Liberty has kindly agreed to answer some questions for you, dear readers. I've put in the first batch below …

What do you think has been the most popular Liberty design of all
time?

The most popular design is impossible to say, but there are some very long-lived designs.

Hera, the Peacock Feather design, first appears (not at Liberty) in the 1870s; Ianthe (the art nouveau design) was picked up by the Liberty designers in the 1960s and has been identified with Liberty ever since; I think perhaps the most typical of all the Liberty classics is Poppy & Daisy which was designed for Liberty in the 1910s and has been in the fabric range on and off ever since.

Liberty has made Tana lawn, Kingly cord, Jubilee wool/cotton, silk (does it have a name?) and jersey, that I know of … were there other fabrics, too? Flannel? Oilcloth? Some polyester in the 1970s that nobody speaks of now? Hemp, during the war?

Liberty has always experimented with different cloth bases: many different cottons from very loosely woven ones to coarse to tana lawn; different wools of which the most famous one is probably varuna wool; lots of different silks, we have three different ones at the moment; velvets, and certainly man-mades, from rayon in earlier times to nylon in the 1960s and polyester and viscose in the 70s, 80s and 90s. We don't have any man-mades at present, but never rule out any good bases.

Are there plans to put little biographies of any of the Liberty
fabric designers on the new Liberty blog?

There are no plans to put biographies of Liberty designers on our web site at the moment. Many of the earlier designers are in fact unknown as Liberty wanted to promote their own name rather than that of others.

What is the oddest thing that has ever been made from Liberty?

Lots of odd things: someone made a teapot that was sold in the shop; there was a Cacharel/Liberty sailing boat in a race in the 70s with a Liberty sail; there have been various marketing campaigns for Liberty fabric, for example one where Elvis's blue suede shoes were substituted by tana lawn ones.

Can you think of other questions you'd like to ask of Ms. Buruma? Let me know, and I'll pass them along …

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0 thoughts on “At Liberty to Say

  1. Liberty Fabrics is new to me. I looked at some of the fabrics on their blog and they are beautiful! Can Liberty Fabric be purchased in the US? Thanks!Kim

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  2. Thank you thank you thank you! I had no idea a book on Liberty was coming out.My current Liberty obsession is their print named Tardis. Maybe when I finally get my hands on some I can make a dress worthy of sweeping David Tennant off his feet.

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  3. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy! I have bought Liberty fabric on Ebay–are there any other sources in the US? I love liberty! My Mom made a dress for herself in the Peacock fabric in the early 80’s and still wears it!

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  4. colourbynumber – Hi. I just looked at the purlsoho website – they have .75 yards of the tardis fabric, but perhaps they could order more?? It is pretty cool.

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  5. I’d like to know what standards a design must meet before it’s printed, and how many new designs are admitted each year. on another note: I’ve been lucky enough to purchase 3.5 meters of the ligth brown – red Ianthe print for 5 euros a metre on a very thin cotton. Any ideas what to sew with it?

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  6. That book should be fascinating…I LOVE the vintage Liberty prints. I just found a new pajama top made of Liberty’s Wiltshire at the thrift store. (They must have been rather expensive pajamas, originally!) If I take it apart, it will make a fabulous bodice and skirt inset for a summer dress for my niece. (Thank god she’s on the wee side.) It’s so light and soft and airy!

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  7. My question: will the full range of Liberty fabrics ever be available for sale online directly from Liberty? For those who are wondering where to buy Liberty in the US: besides Purl Soho, just look up heirloom sewing shops like farmhousefabrics.com (NAYY). They usually have some of the lawns in stock. The challis is a little tougher to find.One of my great moments was visiting London at the same time as Liberty had their annual sale. Sigh.

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  8. Oooh, I will have to order a copy of the book! The one fabric splurge I allowed myself while in London for the summer was to buy some Liberty cotton! Unfortunately, I didn’t buy it during the sale, so couldn’t get as much, but my oh my is it yummy-licious!!!

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  9. Does Liberty print on cotton? I have some of the Hera print on cotton that I bought in the 80’s. Made a skirt and top that I wore to work for many years. Still have a small piece in the stash. If it really is a Liberty print, I may save it for something special.Hard to believe that it is a Liberty print as I’m sure I didn’t spend more than $5.00 per yard for it.Teresa

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  10. There is a nice selection of Tana Lawn and Kingly cord at Weachter’s Silk Shop in Asheville, NC, and you can buy online from them. http://www.fabricsandbuttons.com/ It is not cheap: $36 a yard. I look for garments made from the fabric in thrift stores. I’ve found the Ianthe in 4 different colorways. It really is wonderful stuff.

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  11. More than anything else, I would love to have a handbook of the prints – just pictures, with the names, so I could name-drop in a slightly superior manner!I have got quite a collection acquired in various ways, including old clothes from the charity shops, which have a good enough amount o fabric to go in my patchwork bin even though they don’t fit me. It would be nice to put a name to all the prints, especially the vintage ones.Must say thank you to you, for alerting me to Shaukat, in London. Wonderful place for emptying my wallet – I do believe they have more Liberty print in stock than Liberty.

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  12. I would love to have a handbook of the prints – just pictures, with the names, so I could name-drop in a slightly superior manner! Oh, I AGREE!

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  13. I used to work around the corner from Liberty in the late 80s and spend nearly every lunch hour wandering around the shop. I loved it – every department, every floor. They had fabrics from all over the world, including French designers, batik from Indonesia, embroidered silk from India, wonderful Italian designs. Eventually my burning desire to make something out of this beautiful fabric prompted me to buy a simple skirt pattern and some very expensive fabric (which I still have 20 years later, waiting for me to unpick the dreadful skirt and make something good). So I thank Liberty for setting me on my sewing passion. I now live in Australia and last year visited Liberty after many years away. Unfortunately I was sorely disappointed. As soon as I entered the store I quickly realised that it was no longer the same place (the family owners sold it to a corporate team and the soul of Liberty has long gone). I was devastated – a part of my cultural heritage ripped off and ruined. They only sell a quarter of the fabrics they used to and I can get a better range of Liberty in an excellent patchwork shop in Melbourne. Still, the surviving fabric is still great, and I will be in the queue to buy that book – thanks for the tip.

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  14. I’ve some Liberty cottons in my stash — vintage from the 40’s and 50’s. Some of them were dresses, some scraps left over from dresses and I’m thinking of adapting a Kaffe Fassett quilt design to allow them to escape from the cardboard box. Years ago, in a book mind you, I read that one of them was one of the most popular designs ever, but with the world at my figure tips through the internet can I find it again? No. It had little pixies, or elves, or fairies worked into the patterns. I have it in 2 colorways, but as it’s a blue and white (mostly) quilt, I’ll only be using the one version and waiting for some other special occasion for the polychrome.

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