A Fabulous Vintage Fabric Stash

Several years ago I found myself buried in mountains of vintage fabric we found at a local thrift store. At first we estimated it to be about 500 yards total, but when we were done sorting it was closer to 1,000!!! The lighting is not great in this photo, but you definitely get the idea of the massive amount I’m talking about.

The most exciting thing about this vintage fabric score is it’s ALL apparel fabric. So many times I run across fabric stashes but they are predominently quilting fabrics. This collection of fabrics came from one estate and each piece of fabric averages 5-6 yards each!

While there are plenty of stand out pieces, the first piece that caught our attention was the selvage edge of a 6 yard piece designed by Marc Chagall and manufactured by Fuller Fabrics. As soon as I searched the fabric online I discovered the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York has a piece of this fabric in it’s collection measuring H x W: 141 x 103 cm (55 1/2 x 40 9/16 in).

In 1953, Fuller Fabric’s president, Dan Fuller, invited five of the 20th century’s most distinguished artists: Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, Marc Chagall, Joan Miró, and Raoul Dufy, to collaborate on a line of textiles which the Fuller Fabrics would call the Modern Master Series. Rather than commissioning the artists to create a design for the fabrics, they collaborated with Fuller’s designers to select select motifs from their existing works of art which were then translated into repeating patterns in the fabrics. The fabrics were roller printed not screen printed and the artists themselves approved the motifs and color selections. [1]

The entire collection included 60 designs and was not only celebrated by other textile manufacturers but also included a unique marketing campaign. When the fabrics were launched in the fall of 1955 with a museum exhibition AND documentary film that featured the artists in their studios, the original works of art, the finished fabrics, and the production process. The first exhibition was at the Brooklyn Museum, but also travelled to other American museums.[2] For a five page editorial spread in Life magazine, “Modern Art in Fashion,” Life’s fashion editor, Sally Kirkland, enlisted the participation of her friend, fashion designer Claire McCardell. McCardell designed a wardrobe of separates and dresses using Modern Master fabrics, which were featured in the November 14, 1955 Life photo essay.[3]

The dress designed by Claire McCardell with it’s classic and timeless style immediately grabbed my attention and made me want to find out more about the designer. That resulted in a couple of hours lost online reading and pouring through photos of clothing she had designed. Perhaps I’ll do a post on just her contributions to the fashion industry at a later date.

The piece of fabric I have has no flaws or damage of any kind and certainly there is enough yardage to make just about anything you can imagine including a vintage pattern from the era of the fabric.

I’m not sure what I will do with the fabric, but upon the recommendation of the textile curator at the Cooper Hewitt Museum and also Cora Ginsburg LLC, I have reached out to Deborah Miller Appraisals to help me determine its worth. You can also bet I’ll be keeping my eyes wide open for other pieces from this collection, even if its just enough to make a tank top!

[1] Geoffrey Rayner, Richard Chamberlain and Annamarie Stapleton, Artists’ Textiles: Artist Designed Textiles 1940–1976 (Woodbridge: Antique Collectors’ Club, 2012), 139.[2] “Trying abstraction on fabrics; adaptations from Picasso, Miro, and Léger.” Artnews 54, (November 1955): 43.

[3] Kohle Yohannan, and Nancy Nolf, Claire McCardell: Redefining Modernism (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1998), 126.

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