The best books to get you hooked on textile histories

Who am I?

It seems I was destined to write about textiles. Long after I started documenting the tapestries of the Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh—over 45 years ago—I discovered that my great-grandfather was a cotton mule-spinner, working one of those machines that spurred on the industrial revolution. So it’s in my blood. I’ve interviewed dozens of people who’ve made similar discoveries, and have become a firm believer in the long-lasting inherited significance of textiles. We’ve made them and they in turn have made us who we are. Now more than ever, my hope is to entangle people into the wonderful web that connects every era and every culture.

I wrote...

World Textiles

By Mary Schoeser,

Book cover of World Textiles

What is my book about?

The history of textiles, more than that of any other artifact, is a history of human ingenuity. From the very earliest needles of 50,000 years ago to the smart textiles of today, textiles have been fundamental to human existence. Long a motivation for trade, the exchange of ideas and sometimes even war, textiles are a vast and fascinating subject for creatives, designers, textile and fashion professionals, collectors, students, and anyone interested in this history of humankind. I’ve explored how textiles are made, what they are made from, how they function in society, and the ways in which they are valued and given meaning, as well as reflecting on the environmental challenges they present today. Over 200 colour illustrations bring this global story to life.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Basketry and Beyond: Constructing Cultures

By T.A. Heslop (editor), Helen Anderson (editor),

Book cover of Basketry and Beyond: Constructing Cultures

Why this book?

If you’re interested in the origins of creative thought, this is the book for you. Baskets are key, it turns out, in the connections now made between humans and the tool- and nest-making birds and chimpanzees. Containing, yes, but holding so much more than “stuff”, baskets from around the world are holders of pattern recognition, histories, and even wisdom.

Textiles and Textile Production in Europe: From Prehistory to Ad 400

By Margarita Gleba (editor), Ulla Mannering (editor),

Book cover of Textiles and Textile Production in Europe: From Prehistory to Ad 400

Why this book?

This excellent introduction to the latest archaeological textile studies should convince you that this is the most exciting field for new interdisciplinary approaches to understanding the past. There are 23 essays discussing finds from 16 counties, each telling intelligent but accessible stories about social, chronological, and cultural aspects of ancient societies. Well illustrated and with lots of further reading listed, you’ll end up wanting more.

Fringe, Frog and Tassel: The Art of the Trimmings-Maker in Interior Decoration

By Annabel Westman,

Book cover of Fringe, Frog and Tassel: The Art of the Trimmings-Maker in Interior Decoration

Why this book?

This masterful study of trimmings made and used in Britain and Ireland from 1320-1970 is a lesson in how to look carefully. Westman’s understanding of the most sumptuous elements in interiors, essentially the “bling”, offers insights into specialist working practices and the relationships between clients, suppliers, makers, and fashionability. Her forensic approach means that often the stunning images are paired with a detail of a tassel, cord, or fringe. You’ll never look at a painting of an interior in the same way again!

The Pocket: A Hidden History of Women's Lives, 1660-1900

By Barbara Burman, Ariane Fennetaux,

Book cover of The Pocket: A Hidden History of Women's Lives, 1660-1900

Why this book?

Small things have large stories to tell. Here the topic is a particular type of pocket: generously-sized containers tied on, usually hidden from sight beneath a skirt. Brought to life through surviving examples and depictions of their use, the passages from novels, diaries, court proceedings, and more are especially revealing (in every sense). Is the pocket the necessary accessory of the neat housewife, or an aid to duplicity and secret immorality? This thorough and attractive study has the answer.

Off the Wall: American Art to Wear

By Dilys E. Blum,

Book cover of Off the Wall: American Art to Wear

Why this book?

Today’s freedom to dress as we like is the result of an ‘anti-couture’ movement that sprang forth in the mid-1960s. If you’re a fan of psychedelic rock, you’re already aware of the rebellious youth culture of the time. Hand crochet, stitch, knit, and/or dying gave us theatrical assemblages that made personal expression far more important than the latest catwalk styles. Now you can see the best of the garments that sprang forth to forever change the definition of fashion.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in textiles, Ireland, and Europe?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about textiles, Ireland, and Europe.

Textiles Explore 8 books about textiles
Ireland Explore 120 books about Ireland
Europe Explore 497 books about Europe

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Civil Wars in Britain and Ireland, Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland, and Vikings of the Irish Sea if you like this list.