This section is from the book "The Practical Book Of Interior Decoration", by Harold Donaldson Eberlein, Abbot Mcclure, Edward Stratton Holloway. See also: The Victorian House Book: A Practical Guide to Home Repair and Decoration.
THE decorative importance of textiles can scarcely be overestimated because it is largely by their use that effect and colour are gained, and if the opportunity is missed here it is often altogether missed. Excellent furniture is much, but, after all, seating furniture is but a framework and if it be improperly or unattractively covered its value in impression produced is lost; while simple furniture if good in line may be greatly enhanced in effect when accompanied by delightful fabrics. In a word, if the backgrounds are unobtrusive it is largely by textiles that the room is made or marred If the effect has already been gained by such means as decorated walls or by painted or lacquered furniture, equal discrimination should be used properly to supplement these by fabrics which will not confuse on the one hand, or themselves sink into mediocrity on the other.
Effect consists in colour, contrast, pattern, material and texture. Appropriateness to period, circumstances and use must also be considered. A moment's thought will show that these qualities are kindly guides, and neither hampering nor bewildering details. Instead of having to choose from the whole range of fabrics of whatever sort, the task of the decorator or home-furnisher is greatly simplified.
A concrete example will make this clear - the purchase of fabrics for a certain room is to be made. The colour-scheme has, of course, been settled upon. If we know, then, that we shall require goods in blue, say, or blue in combination, we evidently shall not need to trouble ourselves to look at greens, or violets, or pinks. It is a drawing-room, let us say, which we are considering, and contains mahogany furniture of the late Georgian period - Sheraton and Hepplewhite - with perhaps two or three chairs of the cognate Louis Seize style. As such furniture is of handsome type we may naturally dismiss denims, poplins and other such ordinary materials. We might choose printed linen or cretonne, but it would be much better to employ damask, brocade, or some such goods and do as the British do - use figured chintz covers for summer and informal occasions.
Common-sense, as well as any knowledge of the period, will tell us that for furniture of this refined type we should not use the dark, large-patterned and heavily-textured goods of the Renaissance, made to accompany weighty and imposing pieces of oak and walnut; nevertheless, the simplicity of the walls advises us that it is in the fabrics we must gain our decorative effect and that we shall need colour or pattern or both. Now what were the fabrics used at that time? Reference to Fart I, eighteenth century England, shows us that the textiles used for such refined furniture were brocades, damasks and silks, and that toward the latter part of the century the colours became quieter and more subtle in tone than in the previous more vigorous age and that when they were fairly strong they were so disposed in quantity that their emphasis was appreciably modified. The patterns were as refined as the furniture, and as appropriate in scale, and stripes had great vogue.
At the decorator's shop we state our needs and find some admirable things. There are two or three charming medallion patterns and some small conventional designs of Adam and Directoire character. These are in the solid colours of beautiful old blues, the pattern being in the weave.
We remember the Louis Seize pieces and, with international tendencies in mind, look at a beautiful modern reproduction of a brocade of that period with a flower-basket design surrounded by other florals - this being in many colours.
And we do not forget the stripes which were so greatly in vogue in b6th England and France. There is a striped and figured damask in blue and buff and others in blue and old gold, both simple alternate stripes of plain and satin finish and wide and narrow ones of satin with watered ground. We see, too, one in the same colouring with the addition of white and rose in narrow lines. We especially appreciate the introduction of the other harmonious colours with the blue.
Being well known to the decorator he sends up to the house the large two-yard samples of the several styles we prefer, where we try their effect in the actual conditions under which the fabrics are to be used and there make our choice.
In choosing fabrics it is not obligatory to limit ourselves slavishly to the designs and materials of the particular period, provided there is no incongruity. Sometimes textiles which appeared rather later will answer admirably, and there are good modern designs appropriate for many such uses. If Period furnishing is to live it should be allowed elbow-room. A good test of appropriateness is to ask ourselves whether such and such a fabric would likely have been employed for the particular purpose had it existed in the repertoire of the period.
The choice of materials for any epoch is usually, however, a wide one, for our forebears in most ages were not given to penuriousness, and were as lavish as means allowed in variety and beauty, both of costume and furnishing. For the non-committal or the "Modern" method there is an abundance from which to select, and the result is by no means dependent upon the cost. Some fabrics, by their very nature, are less expensive to manufacture than others and each sort may be thoroughly good of its kind. Sincerity should always be apparent in household decoration, and by sincerity* is meant the avoidance of cheap display and of vulgar and tawdry imitations of expensive materials.
Reference to Part I will afford information as to the various fabrics employed during each of the periods, and the Chapter on Colour (especially the section on Unity and Variety) will give many suggestions as to their use. Curtains and portieres have been discussed in the chapter on Windows and Their Treatment, and the last section of the present chapter will afford hints for the advantageous purchase of goods. Textiles themselves, of all kinds, are for the first time fully treated in Mr. Hunter's interesting volume, which should be consulted by all concerned with household art.*