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Textile Collection Resources for Designers

By Rachel Snack, Textile and Costume Collection Graduate Assistant, The Design Center at Philadelphia University

It’s important for makers and designers to understand the history of craft in order to inform the future of textile design. Many successful textile and fashion collections are born from the inspiration of tradition and antiquity. Inspiration can be drawn from contemporary artists such as Ethel Stein, traditional design works like the Unicorn Tapestries, and a blend of modern and folklore seen in the breathtaking Gee’s Bend Quilts.

Collecting research can be done in a multitude of ways, and many institutions have digitized their collections, making remote study possible. You can browse Philadelphia University’s The Design Center’s collection of textile swatches in their Tapestry Archive. The Powerhouse Museum has created an Electronic Swatchbook with over 1,500 textile samples. The Vogue Archive is a paid subscription that gives users access to over 400,000 color images of textiles and fashion. The Berg Fashion Library, Europeana Fashion, and The Vintage Fashion Guild also have online fashion and textile collections. Researching online enables a designer to narrow their focus, making their in-person visits to collections more efficient and purposeful.

Textile Swatch from The Design Center’s Textile and Costume Collection, made in Japan in 1956.

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After using the digital databases, a trip to the institution of interest provides a more personal and tactile experience. Museums and University collections often display textile and costume exhibitions, and offer private viewings of their special collections for research purposes.

To highlight a few of these collections, The Design Center at Philadelphia University houses an extensive textile and costume collection. This collection can be toured and appointments can be made to use the collection for targeted research. The Textile Museum at George Washington University has an incredible resource library and textile collection. Drexel University’s collection can be seen in person or through their digitalized archives.

Other Universities and Museums include The Museum at FIT, The Costume and Textiles Study Room at Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Historic Costume and Textiles Collection at Ohio State University, The Missouri Historic Costume and Textile Collection at The University of Missouri, and The Clothing and Textile Collections at Michigan State University.

Batik-printed Silk from The Vintage Fashion Guild, made in India.

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Digitalized textile and art museum databases include Cooper Hewitt, Victoria & Albert Museum, University of Alberta Museums, Chicago History Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Royal Ontario Museum, Manchester Art Gallery, FIDM, Textile Museum of Canada, Rijks Museum, Texas Fashion Collection, and Digital Museum.

Opportunities to use and enjoy these textile and costume collections are a special privilege of being a designer. The endless amounts of inspiration and invaluable knowledge available will equip any maker to create innovative and contemporary designs.

To make an appointment in the Textile and Costume Collection at Philadelphia University please contact curator Marcella Milio Martin at thedesigncenter@philau.edu or 215-951-2860. You can also find us on the web at philau.edu/library/textileandcostume.

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