Follow the Thread

a textile & costume history blog from the Design Center at Thomas Jefferson University

American Fabrics magazine


∼ by Ann Wilson

This summer, I tackled a project that quickly turned into an obsession. The task was to inventory our collection of American Fabrics magazines, consisting of 116 issues that date from 1947 to 1986. It’s an incredible collection of primary source research material for textile and fashion design enthusiasts. Not only is the Design Center fortunate to have 116 issues but Paul J. Gutman Library has a near complete run of the magazine in the Bound Journals area.

The publication of American Fabrics was an ambitious and expensive effort, primarily because it is an oversized magazine that includes actual “tipped-in” fabric swatches. The result is part trade journal, part art & design magazine, and part swatch book. It provides remarkable insight into American lifestyle and fashions of the mid-20th century and the evolution of the fabric and fashion industries from the 1940s to the 1980s. The person behind the publication, William Segal, was an artist as well as a publisher, with a deep interest in Eastern religions and non-Western cultures. As a result, American Fabrics has a broad scope that includes features such as: American textile manufacturers and designers, global textile history and industry, important 20th century museum exhibitions, and the relationship between fashion and textiles.

This is the American Fabric industry…spinners, weavers, designers, merchants, financiers…chemists, physicists, planners, creators, promoters…all integrated into a monumental yet human industry…all working to pour forth the fabrics for mankind…This is the American Fabric Industry…the warm, life-protecting woolens and worsteds…the farm worker’s blue jeans…the gay print on a Florida beach. This is the American Fabric industry…reflecting the living panorama of American life…with three centuries of tradition…a great American Industry, basic part and parcel of the living structure of America.

American Fabrics, Issue 1, Fall 1946

Below is a gallery of American Fabrics covers throughout its publication history. Various covers featured original or reproduction designs by important artists (e.g., Chagall and Dali). American Fabrics elevated textiles as both an industry and an artform with a rich history. Click on the image to view the issue’s cover and table of contents. (Note: The entirety of each issue is not available digitally.)

Profiles of textile and fashion designers were a prominent feature. These images are from pieces about Hubert de Givenchy, Dorothy Liebes, Jack Lenor Larsen, and Sheila Hicks.

American Fabrics is chock full of glorious vintage advertising. Most issues contain an advertisers index, a “who’s who” of the U.S. textile industry in the mid-20th century. Many ads include a swatch sample.

The addition of swatches throughout American Fabrics makes for a satisfying tactile experience. Fashion features or industry articles have a greater impact when you can see and feel the textile used in a particular design (as on the left below) or see the result of a particular industry process (such as the feature about dye processes on the right below).

The range of content found in American Fabrics is huge. Those interested in researching the industry from the consumer perspective can find practical articles in a feature called “The Consumer Wants to Know.” American textile history enthusiasts can find features about specific companies and mills. Topics on global trends and techniques include the textiles of Ghana, Indonesian batiks, Japanese woodcuts, Indian block prints, South American hand-weaving, and much, much more. This table of contents from Fall-Winter 1952-53 gives an idea of the breadth of each issue.

T&CC 2021.1.AF24

In our JSTOR public collection, we’ve digitized the cover and index page of each issue. We’ve also compiled a searchable pdf of all of the table of contents pages, which we can provide upon request. Students and other researchers who are interested in using this resource should contact us. Members of the Jefferson community may also visit the Gutman Library and browse the collection in the Oversized Journals section. Be advised, if you’re a textile fanatic you could lose yourself for days perusing this wonderful publication.

Special Collections Technician, Textile & Costume Collection, Thomas Jefferson University

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