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Norwich pattern books
Understanding pattern books

Textile pattern books and cards are sets of designs, small sample or strips of fabric and shorthand methods of recording the pattern, weave and quality.of work. They were compiled by manufacturers and are a rich source for the history of textiles production and design ideas. Together with order and wages books that often accompany them, they provide details of how a particular company worked.

Pattern books are not always easy to understand, as each manufacturer developed their own systems for recording the process of cloth-making from supply to sale. Some of the main categories of pattern books relating to the Norwich industry are:

  • Records of the process from design to production

  • Records of orders completed

  • Records of available patterns for purchase by customers.

    Pattern books end up in museums by good fortune: manufacturers realised they were a valuable source of design ideas and so some changed hands when a business was sold or went bankrupt. But the vast majority were destroyed. The small minority that do survive are tremendously valuable. For an industry that disappeared comparatively early leaving little in the way of artefacts or photographs, the Norwich pattern books provide the only surviving evidence of numerous cloths, processes and varieties.


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    18th Century pattern book
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    19th century pattern book showing woven silks, Bridewell Museum
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    Pattern book for shawl borders, by Richard Shaw, 1834
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    Example from horsehair sample book by Hovell and Orph, Carrow House
    The Norwich Pattern Books

    The Norwich pattern books are among the earliest surviving pattern books in Britain and are particularly informative in the following areas:

  • 18th century cloths and processes, particularly fine worsteds, known as stuffs. Cloths such as camlets and bombazines had been produced for a long period, so these books provide retrospective suggestion of what earlier stuffs were like

  • Norwich Shawls and silk weaving in the 19th century

  • Crapes and horsehairs

    The condition of the sample books ranges from good to poor. Whilst most of the 18thc century pattern books preserve carefully arranged and pasted strips, many of the 19th century volumes consist of diverse notes, orders, jottings and less carefully arranged samples on paper which is now brittle.

    Details of Bridewell holdings
    link to resources : list of Pattern books from Norwich Link to images in database for different cloth types
    (link to glossary of cloth types)
    link to inventory detailing cloth types in workshop)

    Search the NMAS database for these items

    Browse the glossary
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