Book Review: Harris Tweed

Harris Tweed is more then just a fabric in the UK. It is an institution. The material is so revered that it has its own legislation—an official Harris Tweed is: “a tweed that has been hand-woven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the Outer Hebrides, and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides.”

Lara Platman’s gorgeous ode to the anglophile textile, Harris Tweed: From Land to Street, is an immersive introduction to the fabric. Through lush photography, informative behind-the-scenes text, and first person accounts from the people who make tweed their livelihood, Platman introduces the reader to an industry that’s as concerned with community and tradition as it is with producing quality tweed.

Harris Tweed follows Platman’s year spent in the world of the farmers, millers, and weavers of the rocky islands off the west coast of Scotland. The book explains in detail how the fabric is manufactured. Each chapter is devoted to a step in its production journey, including the wool and those who shear it, the mill, weavers, and other aspects of production, until Platman explores how the tweed is used as a final product in contemporary interior design and fashion.
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Book Review: 50s Fashion

Pepin Press is a Dutch publishing house started as a one-man graphic design and book production operation in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Run by namesake Pepin van Roojen, these books all seem to focus on snapshots of deep niches in design; be it typography, packaging design, crowns, or kimono patterns. It’s a wholly homegrown operation, and much of the material is culled from his own decorative art originals, textiles, and fashion archives.

50s Fashion is the 4th instalment in a series on textile design. Concentrating on the major influences of the later part of the era including florals, abstract art, graphic designs, asymmetric prints, folk art illustration, and novelty prints. Due to advancements in mass printing and technology and a collective cultural desire to leave behind the war-torn, austere ’40s in favour of a “fun and modern” lifestyle, the textile market of the ’50s exploded with these eclectic prints.

The bulk of the book is high-quality, close-up photos of individual textile prints, accompanying period garments made from those prints, and vintage illustration plates and advertisements, all organized according to influence. The small amount of text is limited to a brief, general introduction to women’s fashion in the decade, a highlight of Parisian blouse trends and textile inspirations, and a small excerpt on bathing suit textiles. Some explainations of specific prints can be found, but are not the focus of the book. A fun and welcomed bonus is a CD, with high and low-resolution images of many patterns in the book, which Pepin allows people to copy for small-scale, personal and commercial use.

The side-by-side of print and garment are helpful, to see how the fabrics fall on a three-dimensional form, as it can create quite a different perception of pattern and scale, though they are styled with contemporary hair and make-up. Overall, its best use is probably as a supplemental text for a vintage or design aficionado in need of a reference point, rather than a primer on a decade of textile prints.

50s Fashion (Pepin Fashion, Textiles and Patterns series, No. 4) Edited by Pepin van Roojen. Pepin Press, 2010

review by Magenta Piroska

photography by Jessica da Silva