If you’ve read my profile or previous blogs you know that my company, American Folk and Fabric™, Inc. specializes in the manufacture and sale of reproduction vintage and antique fabrics. As you might imagine, one of the questions that I’m most frequently asked is “exactly what are the definitions of vintage and antique fabrics.” I’d like to spend a little time today to provide you with the definitions, and to talk about the characteristics to look for in the original fabrics and high quality reproductions.
Technically speaking vintage fabric is considered to be fabric of a certain style produced in the 1930’s and later. Antique fabric is fabric that is more than 100 years old. People tend to prefer these fabrics over many contemporary designs because of their detail, color and general sense of style. In my personal fabric archive I have in excess of 1,000,000 fabric documents dating from the 18th century.
During my career I’ve touched literally millions of pieces of fabric so I’ve developed an innate feel for the original article, and that experience has been invaluable in helping me to create high quality reproductions. Obviously the age of fabric can tell you a lot about it, but how does one determine age? One of the first indicators is the width of the fabric. For example the width of fabric in the 18th century was generally between 12-16 inches wide. Older fabric might also have tell-tale signs such as a musty odor (from being stored in certain environments), water stains, and even evidence of having been eaten by small animals.
Subject matter is another key indicator with antique and vintage fabric. For example on older French or British fabric you might see elaborate hunting scenes or portraits of patrician-looking people. With certain vintage prints you might observe distinctive looking fruit or floral arrangements that immediately evoke thoughts of the 1930’s or 40’s. Color also plays a prominent role; fine elegant fabric with vibrant color has a shine that light tends to “bounce” off of. You can also look at fabric and think about the number of colors involved and the color “sensibility”.
I’ve had the unique experience of going to fabric shows and week-end sales and seeing my high quality reproduction fabric being sold as the genuine article. I spend a great deal of time and take great pains to ensure that I use numerous screens o put sufficient color into my designs while devoting a lot of attention to engraving detail, so that my fabric has the tight, crisp designs that are generally found in original antique and vintage fabrics. I also only print on high quality base-cloths (cotton, linen) to ensure that my reproduction fabrics have the natural feel and rich quality of the original fabrics that they are emulating.
Above you see an example of a high quality antique reproduction fabric that I manufacture called Toile Francais. It’s a French inspired design that features aristocratic people in a countryside setting. The original fabric document appears in the right upper corner, with my reproduction on the left bottom corner. The original fabric dates from the early to mid 18th century, and was used as part of a bed canopy. Note the beauty, detail and color of the original. It was made using a copper plate printing process. If you look at my reproduction you will notice the same sharp color and detail. We used between a six and eight screen printing process to capture the same level o amazing detail. I’m proud to say that it’s truly difficult to distinguish between the original document and my high quality reproduction. To see more beautiful high quality antique and vintage reproductions, please visit my website at www.americanfolkandfabric.com.
I hope that this short primer has been helpful in clarifying the differences between antique, vintage, and reproduction fabrics. I also hop that it has provided a basis for helping to understand that exceptional quality can also be found in high-quality reproduction fabrics. When you are looking for that “perfect” fabric, pay attention to feel, color and engraving detail, you will rarely be disappointed in your choices.