ScrapHappy February 2019
If each of us were assigned the task of designing a dog fabric, and we were told, “Include as many breeds as possible, and make them look fairly realistic,” our resulting fabrics would probably look pretty similar.
But then if we were told, “Now put something in the background, I don’t care what,” we might add in bones or balls or leashes or squirrels, but I am pretty sure that not a one of us would come up with a background of sky blue argyle. Especially not in a color that was more intense than those of the dogs that were supposed to be the main subject, and not in a scale where the diamond pattern was the same size as the puppies’ heads.
In a way these scraps reminded me of the popular patterns of the late 1800s, known as mill engravings. These shirting weight cottons had unpredictable — and sometimes inexplicable — design motifs, and they are some of my favorite fabrics ever.
A factory might produce several hundred mill engravings a season, forcing designers to throw in almost any motif not out-and-out tasteless in their search for variety. The results, often simple spaced layouts printed in no more than two colors (usually black and red), could be strange and whimsical, as the examples here show.
Susan Meller and Joost Elffers in Textile Designs: 200 Years of European and American Patterns for Printed Fabrics
Because who wouldn’t want jockeys on baboons on their shirt? Or birds perched on whistles? Or trompe l’oeil pins sticking through the fabric?
And look, dogs with scrolls. (Sorry it didn’t scan well, this book is too huge to fit on the scanner.) But we can tell the main subject from the background.
Okay, leaving these great designs behind and getting back to the present, I got these blue plaid dog squares and all these other scraps in a box I bought when a friend downsized. There were enough to make a small lap quilt for our local Veterans’ Administration Hospital, with a row on the back too.
Obviously, this fabric is not my favorite ever. But I hope it cheers up a hospital room with memories of beloved dogs!
ScrapHappy Day is the 15th of each month. Thank you to Kate and Gun for hosting, and for encouraging all of us! Please look at the other participants:
Kate, Gun, Titti, Heléne, Eva, Sue, Nanette, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy, Debbierose, Tracy, Jill, Claire, Jan, Karen,
Moira, Sandra, Linda, Chris, Nancy, Alys, Kerry, Claire, Jean, Hayley, Johanna, Joanne, Jon and Dawn
Wow, that truly is a bizarre combination… But I do think you’ve made the best of it with the other blues and browns. I must say, I do occasionally see novelty prints and think to myself “Why?” – and these are current, not vintage. I know novelty and seasonal prints are greatly loved and favoured by many quilters, so perhaps it’s as well there’s room for all tastes 🙂
I rather like the blue argyle behind the dogs, I hope if I was asked to design a fabric that I came up with that combo. Your quilt’s lovely and cheery, I’m sure it’ll be appreciated.
I am glad that that fabric “unleashed” your interest! 🙂 I do love combinations that seem random to me, but for all I know, are old hat to somebody else — they make me think. I think in this case I personally would like this combo better if the argyle was a little less saturated in color and a little smaller in scale, to showcase the dogs a little better. But that’s just me! 🙂
I actually quite like the dogs in their argyle kennels 🙂
Yes, I just thought it was a humorous combination, but I would have liked it better if the argyle just didn’t compete with the dogs for attention. I’m glad you like it and I hope the recipient does too! 🙂
I’d never heard of mill engravings but I quite like those nutty combos! Your quilt made the best of your particular nutty combo, too–and I think you’re right that just the sweet images of dogs would be soothing in a hospital.
I had never heard of mill engravings until I first read that book Textile Designs about 20 years ago. They even used one as their end paper design. That jockey on a baboon has really stuck with me over the years, and when you think about the hundreds of fabrics I have seen in that time, that’s saying something! 🙂
Yes, old shirtings are wonderful to look at and use in a variety of ways. As for the dogs, a few years ago I had scraps of dog fabric, not quite as amazing as yours. 🙂 I made them into placemats for Meals on Wheels. It was a useful solution.
That is a great idea! I have never made placemats, but I bet there are a lot of charities that would be happy to have them, either to use or to place in a fund-raising booth or something. And then I could use up batting scraps and binding scraps too!
I especially like the mill engraving at the upper left. It looks like someone climbing a rope and there’s a shadow effect, too. I realize I have a sweater made up in that argyle pattern, no dogs though. If nothing else, your quilt will give someone a laugh.
The rope climber is wearing surprisingly little clothing for the 1880s — I wonder if that would have been considered a shocking choice!
I missed that detail. But those circus people were always risque.
I’ve always been drawn to novelty prints, and I’ve always been charmed by the little “conversationals” of the Victorian era. Many of those new novelty prints have been in my stash for over a decade (or two?) because they are so difficult to figure out how to use to advantage. It’s easier now that I have some experience under my belt but I avoid buying them these days. Meanwhile, those little images of the past could be slipped in almost anywhere. 😉
You are absolutely right about the new versus the old ones! I guess one reason is the classic color combination used in the old ones, whereas the newer ones tend to have trendy color palettes that are harder to match. Sometimes, when trying to use fabrics I have been given, I spend a lot of money buying things that will go with them. So much for free! 🙂
Wouldn’t it be great if some company re-issued a selection of the mill engravings? I would pick the jockeys, the rope climbers and the pins……
Sadly no one ever asks me for suggestions like this. Mill engravings are probably out of copy right; maybe a project for one of those print your own fabric deals. Now I’m thinking.
I do know that these authors Susan Meller and Joost Elffers have released a CD-ROM that goes with this book. I don’t know if the designs can be re-used. They are so old, it seems to me they should be in the public domain. I did find this book of French textile samples at the Public Domain Review. It has a few dogs but no jockeys or pins. 😦 I will have to keep looking!
Design No. 4653 looks perfect for a modern quilt. I wonder if it’s out of copyright.
It’s from 1863, and it’s on the Public Domain Review, so I would think so. Unless the book being in the public domain does not mean that the fabric is? I don’t know those legalities but I would think it’s okay to use.
Looks like some contemporary fabric designers are forced to come up with ideas too often, just like in the past 😆
Yes, it’s very possible that I have missed out on a whole trend where some variation of plaid in the background is the “in” thing, but if so, that is a trend I am okay with missing. 🙂
Hahahaha. Never heard about mill engraving fabrics; but I do like the jockey on the baboon! A charity quilt is a very wonderful thing to create – for the creator and receiver.
You are so right about it being good for the creator — I get hours of satisfaction from turning unloved scraps and thread into something cute and useful. 🙂
Oh I KNOW someone will really love this quilt.! It is so fun.