The Fabric of Democracy: Propaganda Textiles from the French Revolution to Brexit

This exhibition explores printed propaganda textiles from the French Revolution to Brexit.

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Curated by design historian Amber Butchart, this exhibition explores printed propaganda textiles over more than two centuries. Discover how fabric designers and manufacturers have responded to political upheaval from the French Revolution through to Brexit.

The mechanisation of textile industries from the mid-18th century led to the development of print techniques that could create more detailed imagery on cloth, quicker than ever before. These increasingly affordable processes ‘democratised’ textile decoration, allowing governments, regimes, and corporations to harness the power of print to communicate, from wartime slogans to revolutionary ideals.

Propaganda is usually associated with public art and monumental sculpture. Through this exhibition, explore how fabrics have been used as a political medium both in the home and on the body, through furnishing and fashion. Find out how textiles were used as a tool of the state across the political spectrum, from communism to fascism. Discover how a fraternal crisis in the monarchy played out on cloth, and how democracies promote national identity through textile design.

On display will be textiles from countries including Britain, America, Italy, Germany and Austria, ranging from French toile de Jouy to Japanese robes from the Asia-Pacific war, and Cultural Revolution-era Chinese fabrics which have rarely before been exhibited in the UK.

Image credit: Peace in our Time Scarf 1938 on loan from the Paul and Karen Rennie Collection © Jonathan Richards.

About the curator

Amber Butchart is a curator, writer and broadcaster who specialises in the cultural and political history of textiles and dress. She is a former Research Fellow at the University of the Arts London and is a regular public lecturer across the UK’s leading arts institutions. She researches and presents documentaries for television and radio, including the six-part series A Stitch in Time for BBC Four that fused biography, art, and the history of fashion to explore the lives of historical figures through the clothes they wore, and she is the history consultant and regular on-screen historian for BBC One’s Great British Sewing Bee. Amber is an external adviser for the National Crime Agency as a Forensic Garment Analyst, working on cases that require investigation of clothing and textiles.

Amber has published five books on the history and culture of clothes, including The Fashion of FilmNautical Chic, and a history of British fashion illustration for the British Library.

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In place of a permanent display, the Fashion and Textile Museum hosts a diverse programme of temporary exhibitions, displaying a broad range of innovative fashion and textiles from designers and makers around the world.

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