Delve into the Liberty print archive department
Hidden away in a warehouse in Bermondsey lies a treasure trove of archived Liberty prints and sketches. Bursting to the brim with oversized books, piles of neatly labelled boxes and paintings as bright as the day they were painted, the rooms are guarded by the archiving department who have a the important task of ensuring every design, from tana lawn to silk satin, is documented with as much information as possible and stored safely in their database.
We caught up with Anna Buruma, Head of Archiving, to find out a few secrets about the archiving rooms and process.
When did the Archive department begin?
Liberty started producing their own pattern books in the 1880s, which were kept from then on.
We are famous for our prints, how many does the archive currently hold?
We always quote the number 40 000, but the exact number isn’t actually known. Liberty has always used their archive so prints kept being re-used, making the counting game very difficult.
What is the process behind archiving a fabric?
The textile archive is actually more of a design archive and it always has been, that’s the main reason for keeping it. So each design is kept in as many forms as possible: from artwork, to fabric bases, colourways, promotional and sales material (swatchbooks, fent books, etc.)to the screen separations in digital form.
What do the department do to conserve the fabric and artwork?
We try to make everything as safe as possible. Textiles are kept away from dust and light in acid-free boxes as much as possible, and artwork is stored in melanex sleeves (this is an ongoing and slow process, as the archive is large and space is very short). There is an ongoing relationship with the paper conservation course at Camberwell College of Arts and students often work on either the pattern books or on individual pieces of artwork.
Can anyone come and have a look at the archives?
The archive is in storage and is for the business only, it is not open to the public. Liberty has given, on permanent loan, the documentary archive to Westminster Archives: 10 St Ann’s St, London SW2 2XR, telephone 020 7641 5180.
We came across this beautifully woven silk scarf which looks to be hand painted, it was originally wrapped in black tissue and is now kept in white tissue in case the dye transfers. It sits in a box with a gold crested front and even has the liberty stamped paper ribbon.
We also discovered an assortment of swatch books and one tana lawn book from when the cost per yard for tana lawn was half a crown – the equivalent of one eighth of a pound today!
The original drawings and paintings are kept in draws and covered in plastic to protect them. The designers often look back to the archive department to revive and re-colour some of the prints. They wouldn’t be short of inspiration after looking through the sumptuous variety of fabric cuttings and artwork. Poppy and Daisy is one of the prints from the Classic collection that has been used since 1979 and was designed by the Jack Prince Studio in 1974. (Pictured below).
Feel like digging out the sewing machine? You can buy all your fabric online here.