Understanding pattern booksRecords of the process from design to production
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 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.
18th Century pattern book
19th century pattern book showing woven silks, Bridewell Museum
Pattern book for shawl borders, by Richard Shaw, 1834
Example from horsehair sample book by Hovell and Orph, Carrow House