When choosing a material for soft furnishings or dressmaking, customers may be offered the opportunity to study small samples of fabrics bound together in a book. This may be more convenient than pulling out long rolls of cloth from piles or sorting through drapes. The sample book also has the advantage of portability, in that it can be carried to a place with daylight, or, if allowed, taken home to view in the setting it will be used.

The particular book shown here dates from prior to decimalisation, as shown by the prices of 3/6 per yard for plain fabrics and 3/11 per yard for printed fabrics. Compare this, which is less than 20pence per yard, with £3.99 per metre to £4.99 per metre for a comparable fabric on a website in 2021. This leads me to conclude that the sample book dates from the 1950s or early 1960s.

Those samples, which still have labels attached, show that the book contained samples of crepe fabric. These appear to be lightweight and intended for dressmaking. Crepe fabric can be made from a range of man made or natural fibres. It has a crinkled or granular surface created by twisting the yarn during the weaving process, by bobbling or by chemical treatment. The cloth is crease resistant and hard wearing. There are many listed types of crepe fabric, one of the most popular being crepe de chine, which is lightweight and made from highly twisted silk or synthetic materials that imitate silk. The term crepe is often associated with mourning dresses, which were made from black ‘crape’.

The history of the Viyella brand can be traced back to 1784 when the first cloth was spun, but it was after the acquisition and development of a major mill near Matlock in 1890 that the brand name was coined and trade marked in 1894. It was based on the valley road by the mill – the Via Gellia Road. The initial fabric was woven from 55% merino wool and 45% cotton. Over the years production moved elsewhere and there have been business mergers and changes of ownership, but the brand has survived. From early on the firm produced clothing as well as fabrics. In 1960, Viyella was awarded the Queen’s Royal Warrant.

As I write in 2021, the future of the brand is uncertain with firms that have been involved now ceased or in administration. Viyella fabrics are no longer sold and currently the Viyella website markets only menswear – shirts, jumpers and socks. However, Viyella branded womenswear is available on other websites.


More information:

Date 1950s, 1960s
Material(s) CardboardFabric
Item number MBPO289

Questions to help you remember using this item

  • When you have chosen a fabric for soft furnishing or dressmaking, have you chosen a fabric from a sample book? If so when and why?
  • When have you made clothes for yourself or another person?
  • Do you like or dislike crepe fabric? Why do you feel that way about it?
  • Do you prefer a patterned or plain fabric?
  • Have you attended dress making classes? If so when and where?

User Stories

With the ready availability of cheap clothing and women, in particular, spending more time at work or engaged in leisure activities, the heyday of home dressmaking is behind us, but there will still be people who enjoy the creation of their own clothing.

The photograph shows my late wife in a home made dress in 1958, when she was 18.

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