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July 1891 French Swatch Book

Some years ago, while mindlessly browsing eBay, I ran across a listing for a swatch book of French silks from the 1890s. The seller had included nearly 100 photos of the pages within the book, and I was in heaven. Not only that, they were selling multiple books, all listed with dozens of photos. I spent a happy morning downloading many photos for later research, but knew I didn’t stand a chance in the auctions.

Little did I know, but a little birdie told my in-laws about the books. Many months later, on my birthday and again on Christmas, I opened packages containing two books each, and I was stunned.

They are glorious books, over 20″ tall and 4″ thick, packed full with swatches of French silk. I feel incredibly lucky to have them in my collection, and have always meant to take my own photos and share them.

By some happy coincidence, one of the books is dated exactly 100 years before my daughter was born. Since today is her 25th birthday, it seems like the perfect time to to share it with you.

July 23, 1891 Swatch Book

I love these books, and have often daydreamed about what it would take to reproduce the fabrics. It’s unlikely to happen (though you never know!) but at least they are a good reference for selecting fabrics. Some of the swatches are just the sort of sumptuous silk brocades you might expect from the late Victorian era, full of pastel flowers and satin stripes.

There are stunningly beautiful (and ugly) cut velvets.

There are stripes of moire and satin, habotai-weight polka dots, and tiny stars in brocade and velvet.

There are swatches that make me wonder if the stock was finally sold off to hotels in the ’80s.

And a full rainbow of solid silks in satin, taffeta, grosgrain, and more.

The other books I own are from 1887, 1892, and 1893, and have their own treasures. For example, bright satin stripes, patterned black sheer fabrics, bold fuchsia polka dots, and some prints that would have been right at home in the 1960’s. If there is interest, I’d be happy to do blog posts on each of them.

Today is a big day on other fronts, too. I published a new e-book in the shop today, all about machine embroidery stabilizers for historical costuming. There’s a flash sale this weekend in honor of the birthday (coupon code “happy25th”), for 25% off all digital items. And it’s my birthday tomorrow, so we’ll be celebrating all weekend before I fly to California on Monday for a short visit with my in-laws. Then I’m off to teach at Costume College at the end of the week. Busy, busy, busy!

If you see me at Costume College, come say hi!

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