Sample, Sample, Who's Got the Sample Book?

The hallway that leads to the Colonial Williamsburg Exhibition “Printed Fashions: Textiles for Clothing and Home” was lined with images from a sample book. This sample book is also featured in the display case in the exhibition. Hundreds of fabric samples provide the viewer with a wider perspective on the printed textiles available to consumers.

The folding swatch book unfurls to 8 feet and contains 430 different samples of cotton and cotton/linen fabric. The book was the printed goods of Thomas Smith of Manchester, England. However, the firm went bankrupt in 1788. The book provides us with specifics on fabric available for clothing prior to 1788.

In the case of Annie Hayslip’s book, it tells the story on one family and friends. It provides a glimpse into what fabrics were available to them and use for their clothing. Two hundred and eighty different names are included in the book, providing a wealth of information about her life. The book is dated 1880, but was created throughout her life.

Sample books are an amazing microcosm of fabric. Depending on the source or purpose of the book it can showcase a designer’s ideas, help costumers select what fabric to use in their clothes, or show what was printed that year. When the books have not been used frequently, it provides a look into fabrics not exposed to light and wear.