Famous 1950s Textile Designers

Instructor: Rachel Tustin

Dr. Rachel Tustin has a PhD in Education focusing on Educational Technology, a Masters in English, and a BS in Marine Science. She has taught in K-12 for more than 15 years, and higher education for ten years.

In the 1950s, textile designs were emerging from World War II. Designers in this period took existing textile designs and made them modern with bold uses of color and pattern.

Textile Design in the 1950s

When you think of bold color and abstract designs, you may think of the Museum of Modern Art or fashion designs off project runway. In textiles, the turn to the modern goes back to the 1950s, which was a turning point in many ways for textile designs. Emerging from the shadows of World War II, the concept of mid-century modern crept its way not just into furniture and home designs, but textile designs as well. It was a time when most fabrics were practical, but in many ways they were also works of art.

British Textile Designer Lucienne Day

Born in 1917 in Surrey, England, Lucienne Day expressed her passion for modern design early. She pursued this passion at the Royal College of Art, graduating in 1940 from its Printed Textiles Department. While there she met the man who became her husband, Robin Day, whom she wed in 1942. However, it was hard to make ends meet as a fabric designer during World War II, and Lucienne Day ended up taking teaching positions to supplement her income until the war ended.

At the end of the war, the British were ready for fresh designs, and their government was eager to boost its industrial production and output - especially for designers. Initially, Lucienne Day started out designing fabric for dresses, but she found working in the fashion industry not to her taste. A 1948 commission would prove to be her big break, allowing her to leap from fashion fabrics to upholstery. It was that year she received a commission from Alastair Morton at Edinburgh Weavers. Her designs for the company caught the attention of powerful home furnishings company Heals, and sent her career into high orbit.

The patterns Day designed in the 1950s tended to be highly graphic and energetic. On the surface they appear simple, but scrutiny reveals that they are made up of layers of different patterns, designed to be practical and appeal both close up and at a far distance. They were printed using screen printing, wherein the patterns on printed on the fabric using mesh screens, one color at a time.

Royal Festival Hall
royal festival

Day's 1951 Calyx fabric would become one of her best-known works. During this time she and her husband had a commission to work on the newly built Royal Festival Hall and its Homes and Gardens Pavilion. They decided to use her previously designed Provence wallpaper, but they also needed fabric for seating. She created Calyx for that specific purpose. It was designed after botanical fabrics, but it was far more stylized and abstracted. Heals resisted its use in the project at first, but once they acquiesced they ended up selling huge quantities of it through their own company. It even won an American Institute of Directors Award in the United States.

Hungarian Designer Eszter Haraszty

Eszter Haraszty had an unusual start in textile design. Born in Hungary, she was educated at the University of Fine Arts in Budapest before starting her career as a costume designer. However, in 1946 she immigrated to the United States, where she lived the rest of her life before passing away in 1994.

It was after her move to the United States that Haraszty shifted her focus from costumes to home designs and textiles. From 1949 to 1955 she was the Director of Textiles for a progressive furniture manufacturer called Knoll. While there she was known for creating the famous Knoll Stripe, as well as spider web patterns like Tracy and Fibra, both of which are on exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Museum of Modern Art

During that same period she also became known for her stitchery. Her focus was on creating designs around poppies, and even produced a book of her work called Needlepainting: A Garden of Stitches. Her designs companies, like McCall's, sold embroidery kits based on her patterns. Haraszty was most known, however, for her use of colors, like mixing pinks and orange, an unusual combination for the time.

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