The final instalment of our Favourite Fabrics Weekend explores the French fabric of lawn, originally published in issue 71 of Selvedge...

Lawn is one of those awkward fabrics that have changed definitions over the centuries. Originally named for Laon in France, its city of origin, lawn was first introduced into England during the 1560s. When Elizabethan poets wrote of ‘printing my thoughts in lawn’ referring to the popular pastime of embroidering symbolic messages as love tokens, it was an exquisitely fine linen of wonderfully crisp snowy white. In Jane Austen’s day it was still a fine linen or cambric, but by the opening of the 20th century the lawn available was predominantly a fine grade of cotton.

Tana Lawn is the speciality of Liberty of London. During the 1920s their renowned cotton fabric buyer and designer, William Haynes Dorrell sourced a particularly fine grade of long staple cotton from Africa and named it ‘Tana’ for Lake Tana in Ethiopia. The pure combed or carded cotton has an exceptionally high thread count, giving a silky feel despite the crisp crease resistant texture: it is still processed in Lancashire without added chemicals or allergens.

The fine quality of Tana Lawn makes it especially suited to prints, as the dyes adhere well, giving brilliant colour reproduction. William Haynes Dorrell’s range of small-scale floral prints was so successful throughout the 1930s that Liberty was able to launch a subsidiary company, Liberty of London Prints in 1939. The Tana Lawn range continued to develop, becoming important to the ‘Swinging London’ of the 1960s when Susan Collier of Collier Campbell fame contributed print designs. Psychedelic re-workings of some of Liberty’s original Art Nouveau and paisley designs became a key trend, made into shirts and peasant-style dresses.

New Tana Lawn prints are added each season to the perennial range of Liberty classics such as ‘Lodden’ by William Morris (1884); ‘Mike’, a Pop Art inspired design used by Yves St Laurent throughout the 1960s; and ‘Glenjade’, a monochrome leaf design that became a Liberty classic during the boom period of the 1930s.

To order your copy of Selvedge issue 71, click here.

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