Image from Calluna: Cushions – Heather Luke

Tana  Lawn™ is the softest cotton, very lightweight, fine, silk-like, tightly woven. My mother loved it for her all of summer dresses and blouses. With hats and belts to match – back in the day…

The pretty small scale prints and geometrics have their design inspiration from every culture, origin and genre. Some immediately recognisable, others as subtle translations. The design organisation  may be  stylised, rambling or all-over; often readable in more than one direction, which helps dressmakers and furnishing makers to place pattern pieces economically.  Any print used for  cushions and summer slip covers  needs to work as well when seen from every position and angle.

The history is unique as accidental,  or perhaps incidental, discovery always is: William Hayes Dorell was a buyer for Liberty of London in the early part of the 1900’s. When travelling through the East African plains in the 1920’s he discovered very fine cotton fibres growing close to the immense Lake Tana in Ethiopia – the source of the Blue Nile. Hence the name. He took the fibres back to London to be spun, woven and printed. And Tana Lawn™ was born, a household name of it’s time and still today with ever changing yet easily recognisable, familiar even  – designs and colours we now know so well.

Susan Collier, Sarah Campbell ( Collier Campbell ) Sally Tuffin ( Foale and Tuffin )  are perhaps the best known of the many Liberty textile designers and Tana Lawn aficionados of the later 20th Century. Fashion designer Bill Gibb, amongst others, loved to use it. In his inimitable ethos of mixing several designs with unexpected trimmings and linings materials – leather, plastic, silk, tweed etc. The V&A Museum hold some lovely pieces of fashion reminiscent and original documents in their textiles library.

An in-house design studio keeps the fabric up-to-date and moving forwards.  The fabric is printed in Como with the undoubted expertise of this area; around 150 prints are in production at any one time. The process is now digital which is ideally suited to the strong and vibrant colours, the ubiquitous design intention and colour ethos; it also keeps the costs affordable and viable. Every colour used in the print is also used to colour a plain version.

Image from Calluna: Cushions – Heather Luke

The cotton is long staple – very similar to the best of Egyptian cotton, woven with 70 and 100 ply yarns, and the calibre in it’s genre is unmatched. The woven fabric is mercerised, which both creates lustre and condenses the fibres- the heat treatment swells the fibres, to a unique softness of hand with a delicate sheen.

Tana Lawn™  is perfect for the heat and for sleeping in, it folds up to nothing and the cream fall out. It’s perfect for travelling and in some ways is the western version of the Indian muslins and of chickankari.

We’ve begun to use it for furnishings and so far it’s all good and all fun!


Image from Calluna: Cushions – Heather Luke

Tana lawns look fabulous together and they also mix effortlessly – with, I’d be bold enough to say, all other fabrics. Suitings, chintz, checks and stripes, certainly tweeds and plaids and even the very beautiful and dense liseres, damasks and brocades. So far we had more problem deciding which to use rather than  whether we can use them.

And I believe them to be trans-global.

Here we used small slips of Liberty Tana Lawn™ for the insets of cushions made from pieces of fabric from the Balotri women of the Thar desert in Rajasthan. These woven cottons are stitched and  pulled up into ridges. I think these are how they have traditionally worked the left-overs and the remains of otherwise worn skirts as I’ve only found them in small pieces.


Image from Calluna: Cushions – Heather Luke


( I’d love to know much more about these textiles – if there is an expert reading this – please contact me ! )

Akin to the Boro, Kantha and patchwork techniques found in all cultures.

Jumper Lampshade


Book: The Victoria and Albert Museum Pattern: Liberty & Co.

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