Dissertation Discussion: Nelleke

What is the working title of your dissertation?

Currently my working title is ‘“Embroidered in Dyes”: Fabrics and Fashions by the Footprints Textile Printing Workshop in London 1925–1939’.

What led you to choose this subject?

Our amazing tutor Rebecca Arnold informed me about the Joyce Clissold and Footprints archive at the Central Saint Martins because she knew I am particularly interested in textiles and the making of dress. I visited this archive in February and immediately fell in love with the Footprints designs and Joyce Clissold’s work as a designer-craftswoman. I especially appreciate the broad perspective on fashion that the archive gave me, as it contains a wide range of objects that illustrate the diverse processes of designing, making, advertising and retailing of fabrics as well as garments. In the course of the research process, I became more and more intrigued by the creative activity of the many individuals and loosely knit groups of craftsmen and -women in London in the 1920s and 1930s. It would be a dream to continue my research in this exciting field.

Figure 2: Footprints blouse from the Joyce Clissold / Footprints collection at Central Saint Martins

Favorited book/article you’ve read for your dissertation so far and why?

I could spend hours at the British Library reading the beautifully-designed journal The Town Crier. Issued by the Merchant Adventurers in London from 1921, this journal was full of interesting crafts-related articles and advertisements, as well as for instance job requests and vacancies by or aimed at established or aspiring craftspeople. The journal was printed on this nice, thick paper. I enjoy just leafing through it, read all the fun ads, and explore interwar London in my mind.

Figure 3: Two pages from the January 1926 edition of The Town Crier.

Favorited image/object in your dissertation and why?

I think I already gave my favourite images away in my last blog, as I love both the cover of the Footprints leaflet and the photograph of Joyce Clissold wearing a scarf of her own design.

But perhaps I can share my favourite ‘object’ with you. It is a reference in British Vogue’s 17 May 1933 issue to the Footprints shop that was located in New Bond Street. After spending almost two days at the British Library, leafing page-by-page through 1930s issues without any previous indication or even guarantee that I would find anything relating to Footprints, I could hardly suppress my euphoria when I actually found a short reference in the magazine’s regular shopping column. I felt like a kind of dress historian-detective…

Favorited place to work?

The most beautiful place to work is the National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is my dream library. It reminds me of that library in Disney’s animated film Beauty and the Beast. But I also enjoy drinking coffee whilst working, for which I often go to Bloomsbury Coffee House at Tavistock Place.

By Nelleke Honcoop

“Embroidered in Dyes” – Fabrics and Fashions by Footprints from the Gunnersbury Museum Collection

Dissertation time has come for us MA students. My research on Footprints, a London-based fabric printing workshop active during the interwar years, has led me to Gunnersbury Museum, a local history museum based in Gunnersbury Park, London. While the museum is currently closed for renovation, the curators were kind enough to let me research their small but exciting collection of Footprints artefacts.

Footprints was established at Durham Wharf, Hammersmith in 1925. It produced hand block printed fabrics and garments which were sold at Modern Textiles, a small shop opened by Elspeth Anne Little at 46 Beauchamp Place, Knightsbridge in 1926.

Footprints was mainly staffed by female art students or recent graduates of the Central School of Arts and Crafts. It was initially run by Gwen Pike, a painting and block printing graduate of Birmingham School of Art. After Pike’s death in 1929 the workshop was taken over by Joyce Clissold, who had previously worked at Footprints as a Central School student. Clissold did most of the designing and carving of the lino blocks, while her employees prepared the dyes and did the printing.

Clissold eventually opened a shop called Footprints at 94 New Bond Street in 1933, followed by a second shop at 22 Knightsbridge in 1935. Both shops were located in London’s fashionable West End and attracted celebrity customers such as the actresses Yvonne Arnaud, Gracie Fields and Anna Neagle.

At Footprints, one could purchase lengths of hand block printed and painted fabrics, or small ready-made items such as scarves, shawls or hats. Customers who desired custom-made garments had their measurements were taken by ‘Madame Blanche’ – the working name of the in-house dressmaker Mrs. White.

Footprints jacket dating from the 1930s with ‘Huntsmen’ design in black and red on unbleached linen. At Gunnersbury Park. Photograph: Nelleke Honcoop

etail of ‘Huntsmen’ jacket. Photograph: Nelleke Honcoop

The Shawl of her Dreams!

Footprints also advertised their fabric painting and printing services directly to dressmakers, which I discovered through an early publicity leaflet I came across in Gunnersbury Museum’s collection. In the leaflet, Footprints’ fabrics were described as “embroidered in dyes”. They were hand block printed and painted in “lovely colours, vivid or demure; designs flamboyant or modest”. For even more novelty and exclusiveness, the dressmaker’s own design could be carried out by Footprints.

The leaflet’s cover is gorgeously illustrated with a printed design of a fashionably short-haired lady. Seen from the back, she wears a fringed shawl with a bold floral design in blue, green, pink and purple. The illustration reminded me of a photograph from the Central Saint Martins Museum and Study Collection, which is the largest collection of Joyce Clissold and Footprints artefacts. In this photograph taken around 1927 Joyce Clissold poses wearing a shawl of her own design.

Joyce Clissold wearing a shawl of her own design, c. 1927. At the Central Saint Martins Museum and Study Collection. Photocopy: © Central Saint Martins Museum and Study Collection.

Finally, the leaflet conjured up a scene at a dressmaker’s establishment where the customer, or “Madame”, lays her eyes on just the perfect addition to her wardrobe: “That five minutes in the showroom on the way to be fitted. That’s when Madame’s eye roves… The SHAWL of her dreams! The SCARF that just goes with the tailor-made. The irresistible little COAT. The intriguing POCHETTE. She falls to it so gladly”.

Oh, imagine how it must feel to find your dream shawl, or any other kind of garment you wish to add to your wardrobe, embroidered in dyes of lovely colours…

Detail of cover of Footprints leaflet, undated. At Gunnersbury Museum. Photograph: Nelleke Honcoop

By Nelleke Honcoop

Further reading:

Clark, Hazel. ‘Joyce Clissold and the “Footprints” Textile Printing Workshop’. In Women Designing: Redefining Design in Britain Between the Wars, edited by Jill Seddon and Suzette Worden, 82–88. Brighton: University of Brighton, 1994.

Gunnersbury Museum is currently closed for renovation, but will reopen in June 2018. See: http://www.visitgunnersbury.org/collections/.