Susan J Lapham "Jester 8: Hide and Seek" (detail)

SDA Book Club: “Modern Fabric” Reviewed by Vivien Zepf

This month’s SDA Book Club welcomes back contributing author Vivien Zepf, who reviews the beautiful book, Modern Fabric.

Modern Fabric: Twenty-Five Designers on Their Inspiration and Craft by Abby Gilchrist and Amelia Poole

Modern Fabric: Twenty-Five Designers on Their Inspiration and Craft is a double-dose of eye candy. With 400 luscious illustrations, this book is a deep dive into color and pattern which will appeal to makers and non-makers alike. Each of the twenty-five designers or design teams in the book has full page and detail images of fabric, collections, quilts, and/or products. Try not to say “ohhhh” longingly, at least once.

But there’s a lot more to this volume than visual stimulation. The thesis of Modern Fabric is to celebrate fabric designers. Each chapter’s essay is based on an interview with a designer or design team and is filled with inspiration, reflections, origin stories, and more. I found it especially interesting to read about the collaborations and how tasks were split or shared within teams. For the most part, these designers created fabric to fill a gap in the market, to make fabric that they wanted to use in their own work but couldn’t find. All are entrepreneurs as well as artists, driven to find ways to express their personal design language in fabric or home goods. 

One of the criteria for inclusion in the book was that the designer(s) created fabric with an aesthetic that Abby Gilchrist, co-author of the book, might (or does) want to offer in her Maine art supply shop. There are names many of us are likely familiar with, such as Kaffe Fassett and Ruby Star Society. But there are also designers whose work I didn’t know. The quiet designs of Destiny Seymour (Indigo Arrows), for example, are extrapolations of ancestral designs held in pottery shards from the Manitoba Museum and reference her Anishinaabe, First Nation heritage. Her fabrics offer lovely counterpoints to some of the more colorful ones also featured in the book. I was pleased to learn about Mili Suleman of KUFRI studio, whose mission is “ help preserve handloom weaving, to provide employment to women and aging weavers” in the interior villages of India. I’ve since added a few names to the list of creators I follow on Instagram.

The one voice I would have liked to hear more from is Abby Gilchrist. Yes, she’s present in the designer selection process. But what are her thoughts about modern fabric and the resurgence in making? Are there emerging trends we should look out for? Are there up and coming designers to watch? I wish there had been space for an essay from her that went beyond the preface. 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t applaud the book’s production team. The photography of Modern Fabric is so crisp we can appreciate the warp and weft fibers of linen samples. The heft of the pages means you can enjoy the pictures without the images on the reverse side showing through. And, the book has a look and feel that mimics the texture of fabric, giving the book a tactile connection to the cloth it celebrates. Small details, yes, but they contribute to the pleasure of reading this as a physical book.

Modern Fabric pays homage to designers and creators, offering peripheral insight in the broader community of makers and our current sense of aesthetic taste. Learning about the voices behind the fabric designer deepens our connection to the textiles we use to express our own creative spirit. I can only hope for a second volume.

–Viven Zepf |

  • Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press (buy it here)
  • Date: November 2020
  • ISBN:9781616898373

If you’ve read this book, leave a comment and let us know what you think!

Do you have a recommendation for a recent fiber-related book you think should be included in SDA’s Book Club? Email SDA’s Managing EditorLauren Sinner, to let her know!

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