Philip Sykas worked as a textile conservator (1983-1994) and as a museum curator (1994-1998) before embarking on a full-time career in research. His doctoral thesis, completed in 2000, examined nineteenth-century calico printers' pattern books from the perspectives of design, technology and business. His research has since broadened to encompass the full history of textile printing in England, but still focuses on the interconnectivity between pattern design, textile technology and merchanting practice. New knowledge has been generated by the detailed analysis of visual evidence from manufacturers' pattern books. By incorporating this with contemporary written evidence, a new understanding is emerging of historical design practice and its response to developments in technology, as well as to the changing needs of a complex international trade.
A. Brunnschweiler and Co. Archives
This two-year project began in 2013 in order to record the material held by Brunnschweiler (ABC) now that the printing site (defunct since 2007) is scheduled for demolition. Textile printing began on the site at Newton Bank in 1816, carried on for over a century by F.W. Ashton. In the early twentieth century, the firm began printing imitation batiks for the West African market and became one of the most important players in the field. Ashton became part of the Calico Printers' Association comglomerate in 1899, and gradually absorbed African export printing from other sites as they closed, being the last survivor in the field. Thus the archive records the twentieth century history of other major printers including Blue Printers, F.W. Grafton of Broad Oak, F. Steiner of Church Bank, E. Potter of Dinting Vale, and S. Schwabe of Rhodes; as well as important merchants such as E.B. Fleming, Grafton African, A.H. Emery, O. Haber, Elson & Neill, and Joseph Bridge.
Arthur H. Lee & Sons Archive
This project reached a climax in 2008 with the mounting of a large-scale exhibition at the Williamson Art Gallery. This involved cataloguing the company archive of Arthur H. Lee & Sons acquired by the Gallery in 1970-1971. The archive contains extensive design records, photographs, advertising material, directors' minutes, pattern books and company publications. Other holders of Lee documents were also sought out and recorded. The aim was to tell the story of this important family firm, and its unique contribution to textile design and technology.
The company was begun by Arthur H. Lee in the mid-1880s in Bolton, moving to Warrington in 1888, and then to Birkenhead in 1908 when it was incorporated as Arthur H. Lee & Sons. The company continued under the direction of Lee's three sons, and five grandsons, before closing in 1970. The American branch of the firm continues as Lee Jofa in New York. Arthur H. Lee developed innovative methods of weaving figured "tapestries" on power jacquard looms. The restricted colours of the shuttle boxes were supplemented by printing processes giving Lee textiles a unique appearance. The company also produced a large range of crewel and canvas embroideries. Although perhaps most associated with decorating in the period style, Lee's also developed a modern range in the 1920s (notably "quiltweaves")and a range of luxury-market plain upholstery fabrics in the 1950s and 60s. The firm was also the agent for Fortuny in Europe and the USA.
Current research is focused on understanding the global nature of the company. The firm had an office in New York as early as 1903, and an office in Berlin in the 1920s and 30s, while sales agents were employed from Canada to Australia.
The Downing Collection at MMU contains an important group of textile manufacturers' pattern books from the early nineteenth century to recent times. These include calico printers' books from both the London region and the North West, as well as Parisian subscription service samples. The collection is being catalogued in detail, with selected books added to an image database available to students and researchers on site.
G.P. & J. Baker Archives
The design studio of G.P. & J. Baker holds one of the most important archives of printed textiles in the country. It contains not only the company's own production, but that of predecessor firms going back to the mid-eighteenth century. As guest archivist, I am cataloguing this material so that historical information can be made available for research, even though the commercial nature of the company's holding of the archives prohibits full open access.
The Polynesian Print: Origins of the Pareu
Little is known of the origin of the printed cloth used for the wrap-around garment of the Polynesian Islands, the pareu, even though the readily-identified printed patterns have become signature motifs for the region. Dale Hope, author of "The Aloha Shirt" initially posed the question whether these patterns may have come from Manchester, and this was the start of a long research journey gathering images, texts and artefacts. While Lancashire prints were traded in the South Seas from early Victorian whaling days, it appears likely that the Polynesian print was not evolved until around 1870. The large-scale white patterns on single-colour grounds may have come about due to technical factors involving both pentagraph engraving and lead-plate printing. But the reception of these patterns depended on Polynesian culture as much as global traders. This research is tracing the complex interplay of design, merchanting, and culture in late-nineteenth and early twentieth century Polynesia. One objective is to publish a co-authored book on the subject with Dale Hope, known for his work on the Hawaiian shirt.
The Rediscovery of Shadow Tissues
This project, supported by the Leverhulme Trust, was completed in 2013 with the publication of a book: The Beauty of Experiment (in two parts): Shadow Tissues at Turnbull & Stockdale by Philip A. Sykas, with a foreword by Paul W. Turnbull. The Rediscovery of Shadow Tissues by Patricia Belford, assisted by Beth Milligan.
In the period between the two world wars, a type of warp-printed furnishing fabric known as “shadow tissue” enjoyed a great popularity. The Lancashire textile firm, Turnbull & Stockdale, was an eminent producer of the fabric. Its willingness to experiment with mechanised production, new design styles, fancy yarns and weave constructions allowed Turnbull’s to develop the fabric further than its competitors. However, the fabric was not revived after the war, and the specialist knowledge entailed in its production was lost. Using the Turnbull Archive, Philip Sykas set out to regain an understanding of shadow tissues from surviving samples and documentary evidence. Parallel with this study, Patricia Belford undertook to test this information in practice, and to continue to develop shadow tissues to make fabrics suited for today’s marketplace.
The project demonstrated how historical and practical knowledge support each other in gaining an understanding of the past. It showed that historical textiles are not simply things of beauty that provide inspiration, but repositories of craft knowledge that can put us in touch with the makers of the past.
The Wardle Pattern Books Revealed
Completed in 2009 by the inauguration of an on-line database with interpretive essays, this research project was carried out under the aegis of the MLA Designation Challenge Fund 2006-08 at the Whitworth Art Gallery. Intended to open up "Hidden Histories", the grant project encompassed conservation, research and interpretation of the Thomas Wardle pattern books. My input involved detailed page-by-page cataloguing, book summaries, pattern "maps" of the development of Morris & Co designs, and interpretative essays on subjects including: printing fabrics, roller printing, and the use of historical textiles as design sources.
Thomas Hoyle and Sons: Quality Prints for the Masses
This is a joint project with John Beckett, an independent scholar. It seeks to tell the story of this iconic Manchester firm, and to assess its technical innovations and design contributions. The prints of Thomas Hoyle and Sons achieved brand name status in mid-nineteenth century Britain, and the firm's works at Mayfield (just south of present-day Piccadilly Station) was a "must" on the route of Victorian visitors to Manchester. They came to experience the spectacle of a mile of calico being printed in an hour- a symbol of industrial achievement through technology. Hoyle's purples became the standard day wear of middle-class Victorian women, and are preserved today in numerous antique pathwork quilts. This research aims to gather the evidence for why this company achieved such greatness and longevity.
Sykas, PA., 2013. 'The Beauty of Experiment: Shadow Tissues at Turnbull & Stockdale', Turnbull & Stockdale, Isle of Man.
Sykas, PA., 2005. 'The secret life of textiles: six pattern book archives in North West England', Bolton Museums, Art Gallery and Aquarium, Bolton.
Sykas, P., 2019. 'The Polynesian print'. In The Tahitian Pareu: Spirit of the Islands, Prospect Park Books (unconfirmed).
Sykas, P., 2019. 'Entente cordiale: Anglo-French exchange among calico printers'. In Oberkampf et la toile imprimée: Production, creation, consummation., Musée de la Toile de Jouy.
Sykas, P., 2019. 'Holker, technical innovation and the hot cylinder press'. In John Holker's livre d'échantillons (working title).
Sykas, PA., 2017. 'Textiles'. In Baxter, DA., Vincent, S. (eds.) A Cultural History of Dress and Fashion in the Age of Empire, pp. 9-34, Bloomsbury Academic.
Sykas, PA., 2013. 'Investigative methodologies: understanding the fabric of fashion'. In Rocamora, A., Entwistle, J., Thomas, H., Root, R., Black, S., De La Haye, A. (eds.) The Handbook of Fashion Studies, 625, Bloomsbury Academic, London.
Sykas, PA., 2012. 'Re-Threading: Notes towards a History of Sewing Thread in Britain'. In Textiles: Critical and Primary Sources, Volume 1: History/Curation, pp. 96-118, Berg, London, England.
Sykas, PA., 2011. 'Caring or Wearing'. In Brooks, MM., Eastop, D. (eds.) Changing Views of Textile Conservation, pp. 311-318, Getty Publications.
Sykas, P., 2010. 'Refashioning Indian chintz in the European manner'. In Cloth That Changed the Word: India’s Painted and Printed Cottons, Royal Ontario Museum.
Sykas, PA., 2007. 'Abundant images and scant text: Reading textile pattern books'. In Hayward, M. (eds.) Textiles and Text: Re-establishing the Links Between Archival and Object-based Research, pp. 23-28, Archetype.
Sykas, PA., 2006. 'Hot press printing of worsted cloth: A precursor of roller printing'. In Corcy, M-S. (eds.) Les archives de l'invention écrits, objets et images de l'activité inventive : actes du colloque international organisé au Conservatoire national des arts et métiers et au Centre historique des Archives nationales, les 26 et 27 mai 2003, pp. 101-112, CNRS/Universite de Toulouse-Le Mirail.
Sykas, PA., 2003. 'Corduroy: panning for gold; and, Life-saving fabrics'. In De la Haye, A., Dickson, E. (eds.) Textile Tales, 4.
Sykas, PA., 2001. 'Pattern book research in Manchester'. In Calvera, A., Mallol, M. (eds.) Design history seen from abroad: History and histories of design, University of Barcelona.
Sykas, PA., 2019. 'Fabric-covered cars: motor engineering and fashion', Aspects of Motoring History, 15, pp. 3-15.
Sykas, P., 2019. 'Design', Textile History, 50 (1), pp. 73-81.
Sykas, PA., 2015. 'Wearable Prints, 1760-1860: History, Materials, and Mechanics', COSTUME-THE JOURNAL OF THE COSTUME SOCIETY, 49 (2), pp. 246-248.
Sykas, PA., 2010. 'THE MANCHESTER INDIAN: THOMAS WARDLE AND INDIA', TEXTILE HISTORY, 41 (2), pp. 247-249.
Sykas, PA., 2009. 'Fustians in englishmen's dress: From cloth to emblem', Costume, 43 (1), pp. 1-18.
Sykas, PA., 2004. 'Morris Martin, a paper stainer of Fulham active in the 1820s', Wallpaper History Review, pp. 94-95.
Sykas, PA., 2001. 'The north west pattern book survey', Textile History, 32 (2), pp. 156-174.
Sykas, PA., 2001. 'A medieval textile forgery', Textile History, 32 (1), pp. 119-121.
Sykas, P., 1999. 'Calico Catalogues: Nineteenth-Century Printed Dress Fabrics from Pattern Books', Costume: The Journal of the Costume Society, 33 (1), pp. 57-67.
Sykas, PA., 1998. 'The public require spots: Modernism and the nineteenth century calico designer', Journal of the Textile Institute, 89 (3), pp. 3-15.
Non-Peer Reviewed Articles
Sykas, P., 2018. 'Design: Reflections and Directions', Pasold Research Fund Conference 2018: Fifty years of Textile History: Cloth, Dress, Fashion, Museum of London, UK, 16/11/2018 - 16/11/2018.
Sykas, P., 2018. 'Travels in the archive: From conventions of production to cultural meaning', Facing the objects: Methods for object-based textile research, Nordiska Museet, Stockholm, 25/10/2018 - 25/10/2018.
Sykas, PA., 2015. 'Entente cordiale: Anglo-French exchange among calico printers', Oberkampf and printed cotton, 18th to 19th centuries Production, design and consumption, Jouy-en-Josas, France, 8/10/2015 - 10/10/2015, in Proceedings of the international symposium Oberkampf and printed cotton, 18th to 19th centuries.
Sykas, PA., 2010. 'Industrial Manchester's confrontation with copying', Power of Copying 2010: International Contemporary Design Selected from Art Academies, Xuzhou Museum of Art, China, 14/5/2010 - 14/7/2010, pp. 117-121.
Manchester Fashion Institute
Manchester Metropolitan University
Manchester M15 6BG