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.