[Pictured: Aleksandra Orekhova explains her research to other Warner Textile Archive volunteers. The design featured, ‘Japanese’, is the earliest paper design that Aleksandra worked on as part of the project. Dating from around 1870, it is show here with the final handwoven silk sample manufactured in 1877.]

Aleksandra Orekhova, University of Saint Martin’s BA in Textile Design student, joined us at the Warner Textile Archive for a two-month placement to discover more about the nineteenth-century design artwork in our collection. As part of our new project unlocking the silk manufacturing heritage of Warner & Sons, funded by The Textile Society, Aleksandra contributed to furthering our cataloguing and research of this important collection.

By Aleksandra Orekhova

Exploring historic designs and manufacturing processes helps us build a design future for today, based on that knowledge gained. Studying Textile Design at Central Saint Martin’s, with my main interest in product design and architecture, I was keen to develop expertise in archiving and art preservation to develop an understanding of the interactions between an artist and a manufacturer. This desire led me to the Warner Textile Archive, and its massive collection of over 100,000 items during my placement year.

As the Warner Textile Archive has received the Museum, Archive and Conservation Award from The Textile Society, I was fortunate to become a part of a cataloguing and research project focused on the earliest artwork designs from Warner & Sons. During the placement, I got a chance to expand my knowledge of nineteenth-century design.

The ‘An Artist in Silk: Revealing the imagination of the nineteenth-century silk industry’ project has taught me focus and attention to detail. I have also gained an understanding of the progression of a design from sketch, to final handwoven silk. I was also interested in the architecture of the buildings where these textiles might have been used. I gained new skills through surveying late-nineteenth century artworks, improving their catalogue records, and structuring information learnt into a plan to develop a group visit programme. The paper design collection was accessed through old index cards. Thus, to create a digital database, I searched for a card assigned to each design and completed missing details in the digital description. The complete digital catalogue now consists of over 150 individual designs.

Exploring the collection, I’ve found out many of the designers from c.1870 – 1920 were also architects, who because of the growing demand for good design in the industry, would work for manufacturing firms, especially those dealing with wallpapers and textiles. Most of these designers were not familiar with the weaving techniques, and they would supply a paper design. Then the preparation of the woven design would have been done by a draftsman in the firm’s studio. He would re-draw the traditional pattern to scale according to the weaving construction ready for transferring to the point paper. These re-drawn pieces would be the works I mostly looked at during the project. The design would always appear larger on the point paper as one square would present a group of very fine silk threads. Thus, during the internship my previous professional experience and Bachelor’s degree in Textile Design have helped me to work out which paper and silk designs would correspond. Throughout this placement, I gained an understanding and expertise in silk textile manufacturing processes, design themes, and interior trends of the nineteenth century.

Work in the Warner Textile Archive requires high concentration and attention to all aspects. At the same time, it allows you to form an invaluable visual vocabulary to create your own designs.