Review of Linen Damask - Production & Collection


by Fran White

This well presented tome is compiled from papers given at an international conference at The Abegg Foundation, Riggisberg, Berne, Switzerland in 1997.  The Museum hosted this meeting to coincide with their exhibition ‘Linen Damask, Heraldic motifs 16th - 18th century’.  It holds an important collection of white linen damask dating from the 16th to the 19th century, the main part of which formed the Dutch private collection of C.A. Burgers and J.G. du Preez.  Both of these experts have contributed to this publication with articles discussing actual items in the collection. 

Methods of research, attribution and development of production in the British Isles, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Scandinavian countries are discussed.  An enthusiastic interest in Damask as well as a fairly advanced knowledge of weaving terms would certainly help decipher the meticulous research made by each of the academic specialists who contributed to this scholarly work . An understanding of European languages - and for that matter European history - would also be an advantage as several papers are written in French and German.  

Amongst the many varied and fascinating points raised by each contributor the following three have been selected to highlight different perspective from which documentation and research can be made.  In the 1930s the Nordiska Museums’ photographer - Marta Clareus - developed a camera especially for photographing damasks.  This was used in the important documenting of public and private Swedish collections.  In America Milton Sonday has experimented with drafts to aid in charting the development of ‘damask-like techniques in China’ suggesting that - as with all the best inventions - the structure now recognised as Damask possibly evolved from a series of mistakes .  He encourages the reader to make trials similar to his own in order to comprehend this development.  With the aid of a Dutch hand weaver, Freida Sorber  incorporated the drafts, tie-ups and treadlings from an 18th century illustrated weavers’ manuscript into a computer programme which gives out a visual image of the woven structure.  This facilitated comparisons between actual linens and their possible designs.

This invaluable source book is a must for any textile enthusiast, whether amateur or professional, and is an essential manual for anyone drawn to  Damask!  Each chapter is well illustrated and captioned with photographs, diagrams and drawings which are carefully identified in the text. Important questions have been addressed and suggestions made for encouraging further research.  There is a reminder that it is sometimes more difficult to determine provenance of damask from more recent times as - when a company ceases to trade - archive records are often destroyed.  Let any present designer heed this warning!