Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Stehli Silks Americana Prints

As by now you well know, I'm absolutely nuts for novelty prints - the wilder the better. And (continuing my Art Deco theme) the Americana collection released by the Stehli Silks Corporation between 1925 and 1927 is an absolute bumper crop, featuring some ofo the most avant-garde and outlandish patterns of the day. The collection consisted of a large and stylistically varied group of patterns on American themes, commissioned from prominent artists, designers, cartoonists and celebrities. It was created to prove that America - specifically New York - could be a centre for fashion to rival Paris, and was received with some excitement. A New York Times article in 1925 hailed the collection as "Something new and distinctive in silk fabric designs [...] expressing the virility and color of the New World. The skyscraper, jazz and other modern notes of energetic America will be reflected in the designs."

Some of the most engaging novelty prints are the ones which aren't immediately obvious - the ones that look like abstract geometrics or florals until on closer inspection, like a magic eye picture, their true nature becomes clear. It's these that make the Americana collection especially awesome: an ostensibly abstract swirl transforms into a rollercoaster; a generic Deco floral becomes an umbrella-carrying crowd; a geometric reveals a jazz band or a group of tophatted gentlemen transfixed by a passing blonde. This is the genius of the novelty print.

The New York Times predicted that the biggest hit would be Clayton Knight's Manhattan, designed in a Futurist style "so modern that it suggests a view of all our skyscrapers piled up together, seen from an elevated train rounding a sharp curve".

Manhattan by Clayton Knight

Dresses in Clayton Knight's Manhattan print

April by Clayton Knight (I'm totally going to have to repro/recolour this at some point) update: I've finished the repro and you can buy this print from spoonflower in grey, olive green and slate blue colourways.

Map of Paris by Ralph Barton

Dress in Ralph Barton's Paris fabric

Tickertape by Charles Buckle Falls

Thrills by Dwight Taylor

Stadium by Dwight Taylor

The collection was intended to be absolutely of the moment, reflecting "the latest whims and fads [...] of the rapidly changing age to which they belong", and some of the designs were inspired by popular culture of the time. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by the cartoonist Ralph Barton referred to the novel by Anita Loos that Barton had recently illustrated; while John Held's depiction of a jazz band is titled Rhapsody as a nod to George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue (which also happens to be one of my favourite pieces of music).

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Ralph Barton

Rhapsody by John Held

Celebrity contributors to the Americana Prints included Wimbledon tennis champion Helen Wills, who created two tennis-themed patterns.

Game of Tennis by Helen Wills

Game of Tennis II by Helen Wills

Accessories by fashion illustrator Helen Dryden

Which is your favourite?

Sources: Twentieth Century Pattern Design; Metropolitan Museum of Art; V&A Museum.


  1. The fourth from the bottom reminds me of the illustrations form my cocktail book which I posted about recently.



  2. I'm loving this!



  3. I like April and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, best. Wouldn't mind a few yards of those.

  4. Ahhhh, the April print is just so perfect!

  5. I love them all. These are simply marvellous.

    There was a print very similar to "Stadium" that came out a year or so ago - a crowd scene in Windham fabrics' Shelburne Circus range. They did a colour version and a sepia/ brown/ off-white one that is very close, although not quite as nice as this one.

    The tennis playing stick men on their tennis courts crack me up. I want that fabric!

  6. The April is my favorite too. @ Lolly Wilowes I concur on wanting yardage.


I'd love to hear your thoughts!


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