Earlier this week, Mary Schoeser, a world authority on historical textiles, gave a presentation at the Warner Textile Archive in Braintree entitled “The appliance of science: surprising sources for 1950s patterns”.

Of central importance to this era of design was The Pattern Group Project, which was convened in preparation for the 1951 Festival of Britain and involved prominent designers such as Lucienne Day and manufacturers, including Warners. Many of the iconic patterns we associate with 1950s design originated with The Pattern Group Project, which formed the basis for post-war design.

The project was offered graphics of innovative X-rays of crystalline structures, allowing designers for the first time to utilise the latest scientific technology to evolve the next phase of surface pattern and design. To their surprise, they found that many of the patterns and designs found in these microscopic structures were familiar from pre-existing art and design; for example, the structure of kaolin resembles an American patchwork pattern and formed the basis for the Harwell design.

Mary emphasised the excitement of the age, in particular the belief that science would shape a new world, and the torrent of technical innovations, including the development of acrylics, that enabled the same colours and patterns to be applied to both fabrics and plastics.

If you are interested in finding out more about Mary’s talk, there is a publication by Mary Schoeser in the Journal of the Design History Society named ‘The Appliance of Science’.

Calyx by Lucienne Day for Heal’s, 1951, from one of our best loved reference books – Twentieth Century Textiles by Francesca Galloway.