Follow the Thread

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

Your Source for Historic Textile Swatches : Tapestry


Conversational print, England, 1883, T&CC 1996.23.753

∼ by Jade Papa

Did you know that as part of our collection we hold tens of thousands of fabric swatches dating back to the seventeenth century?  Well, now you can check out some of these swatches on our new and improved website Tapestry.

In 2012, the Textile & Costume Collection received a grant from the Barra Foundation to digitize some of the textile swatches, which then (and now) reside on archival index cards in filing cabinets. 

These delightful textiles run the gamut from printed swatches (as seen above) to woven pieces demonstrating every weaving technique imaginable. 

Originally, these swatches were part of large books that textile manufacturers kept as a physical record of the work they produced and might want to produce again.  We have a number of these records as a part of our Carol Greenberg collection that stretch back to the mid-nineteenth century.  The challenge with these books is to preserve the swatches they hold.  The pages of the books are non-archival and the swatches were often glued in place.  All of this leads to discoloration and deterioration of the swatches.  Remnants of damage from their previous housing is noticeable on the swatch below featuring a boy and a girl playing a popular lawn game of yesteryear, skittles.

While the textile manufacturers of our swatches are varied, many of them are part of what we refer to as the Zane Collection.  Ira Zane was a 1948 graduate of Philadelphia Textile Institute.  He died tragically in a plane accident and a memorial gift was given to the University in his name.  This gift was used to fund the removal of a number of swatches from these manufacturers’ record books.  Where available, information about the swatch – its manufacturer, its date of manufacture – was recorded on the index card. 

Fast forward to 2012, these textile swatches – sans the index cards – were scanned in high resolution and placed on Tapestry.  In this digital format, they are more accessible and we hope that amongst the thousands of swatches, students, weavers, print designers, graphic designers, and others can appreciate the artistry of these textiles and find inspiration for their own work. 

Today, Tapestry’s interface has been polished and improved.  You’ll discover remarkable treasures just by scrolling down on the page and seeing what pops up.  Or, you can search for swatches with specific qualities.  Use the search feature to search by color, motif, motif category, manufacturing date, or manufacturer.  Make sure to check out the “How To” page for more helpful search tips.  And happy browsing! 

Special thanks to Liz D’Angel and Chris Baster for their hard work in getting Tapestry up and running and looking great.  None of this would have been possible without them.   

Curator and Adjunct Professor, Textile & Costume Collection, The Design Center, Thomas Jefferson University

Images of objects in our collection are copyrighted by Thomas Jefferson University. For inquiries regarding permissions and use fees, please contact: