Currently Reading: Cath Kidston’s In Print

I was vaguely familiar with the Cath Kidston name when I spotted this book at a thrift store recently.  And the subtitle, “Brilliant Ideas for Using Vintage Fabrics in Your Home”, pulled me right in.  I finally got around to reading it in the quiet hours after Thanksgiving dinner.  It’s pretty much just a picture book, with lots of soft and romantic prints splashed across each page, so I was able to get through it in one sitting.

For people not in Britain where the Kidston company is located, a bit of history is in order.  According to their website, Kidson became interested in vintage fabrics while working for a dealer of antique fabrics.  In 1993 she set up shop, making accessories from vintage fabrics and selling her own fabric based on a vintage wallpaper design.  By 1999 the business was a huge success and Cath Kidston released her first book, Vintage Style.  Now there over a dozen books, including the one above, published in 2006.

As with any “lifestyle” book that is written by someone who has a product to sell, the lines of vintage fabric and Cath Kidson fabric are somewhat blurred in the book.  Which are actually vintage prints, and which are Cath Kidston prints are not clearly identified in the text.  Perhaps they are all vintage, but some do look like updates to me.

In one section on abstract prints, I was impressed by one particular passage:

Abstract prints are still easy to pick up and well worth looking for, despite the fact that they are becoming increasingly fashionable.  There are famous designs by artists such as Lucienne Day, which are expensive and collectible.  They tend to appear at better auction houses and are a serious investment, not to be chopped into cushion covers.  Because I know little about this era, I am always cautious about cutting fabric up for cushions without looking at the seams.  Fabrics are normally named along the edge if they are by a famous studio or artist, so it is really worth checking before you get out the scissors.

Could it be that there is someone out there advocating caution before chopping up old textiles?  But later on, this brought me back to reality:

Some of the best painterly prints can be found on old fifties sundresses and summer skirts.  For me, the problem is that they never fit because they all have such tiny waists, so chop them up.

If you are in the UK, then if you take Kidson’s advice, you very well could be chopping into a Lucienne Day textile, as she did produce fabrics that were used by such dressmakers as Horrockses.  If you are in the US, then you might be cutting into a Picasso or Klee print from the Modern Masters line that was used by designers such as Claire McCardell.

Caution should be taken before cutting into any textile.  I’m a believer in redesigning old unwearable clothes that have no real value otherwise, and I have little problem using my stash of vintage fabrics.  But some thought has to go into the decision-making process before cutting.  Any vintage garment may have historic value, not just those by a famous designer.

As a collector of sportswear, I know that a 1920s wool sweater for a woman is much rarer than a beaded  party dress of the same era.  We need to be preserving a full range of what people wore, not just the couture and the special.

Okay, I’m not a fan of big rose prints, so I couldn’t really relate to the photos nor to the style promoted by the book.  Today, Cath Kidston is big business.  The prints are a bit trendier, and cute in a mumsy sort of way.  I have to admit that if I were traveling to London this season I’d be tempted by the London Christmas print umbrella.  It’s a seriously great novelty print.

Edited to correct spelling errors.

7 Comments

Filed under Currently Reading, Viewpoint

7 responses to “Currently Reading: Cath Kidston’s In Print

  1. Susan

    Thank You! You wrote, “We need to be preserving a full range of what people wore, not just the couture and the special.”– you are absolutely right. Museums are full of clothing for the rich, clothing that was only intended to be worn a few times, but every-day clothes — the clothing worn by the majority of the population — is rare, and rarely displayed. Much of it didn’t survive. Women’s everyday clothing was worn out, or cut up and recycled into children’s clothing, quilts, etc. Men’s clothing was usually worn until it wore out — after being passed from one wearer to another, sold and resold and “demoted” from office wear to construction or farm worker’s wear. Most children had the experience of wearing hand-me-downs from older siblings until the fabric wore out. Adult clothes that no longer fit or went out of style were salvaged to make smaller clothes, or remodelled — “make do and mend” wasn’t just a wartime slogan, and anyone who handles vintage garments will often find evidence of alteration. Housedresses, frock coats, shirts, work uniforms, sportswear –These everyday treasures for the historian — and, fortunately, there are a few collectors who value them. Thanks for reminding your readers that rarity is not necessarily a reflection of the original pricetag.

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    • Susan, in my early days of collecting clothing, I quickly realized that I was not going to be able to compete with museums and collectors with very deep pockets. Yes, I’d like to have tons of couture, but as you pointed out, that area is very well covered.

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  2. I have been to the CK shop in England, it’s great. It does remind me of how Laura Ashley made romantic retro floral prints popular in the 80s. Thanks for the history of the CK store, I did not not know that.

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  3. As a UK person..she fills a niche..and sometime quite brilliantly..but there is still a strong element of copying from the originals..and I would always prefer to have the originals xxxxx

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  4. I saw a Claire McCardell dress on Ebay a couple of weeks ago made with one of the Modern Masters Marc Chagall prints. Unfortunately I couldn’t swing the $1,100 price tag! I’m hoping it was sold to a museum.
    Lizzie, if you get to LA, International Silks and Woolens has a number of beautiful vintage printed fabrics on their top floor, from the ’30s on up. The scarf I’m wearing in the picture is from one of their ’30s wool challis.

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  5. I also have this book, but was not familiar with Cath Kidston – thank you for the background. I do have trouble cutting into some of my fabrics – I have a collection of vintage bark cloth, and often just can’t bring myself to cut it up.

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