Indian Cotton Prints of the Nineteenth Century Indian textiles had long made an impact on British design and decoration and had been doing so with an increasingly larger and more dominant approach to the British market throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The British were impressed by the professional standard of textile work produced in India and particularly that of East Bengal, now present day Bangladesh. Imports were wide scaling and became hugely popular with the British public. This had produced by the nineteenth century a subtle dependency of the British industry on the style and format of Indian pattern work to such an extent that it seemed, at first glance, to be difficult to tell textiles that had been imported from India and those that had been produced domestically.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, a systematic analysis of Indian imports and design work in general was underway. Before this period the British textile industry had been largely content to merely copy Indian textile work in order to accrue their own profits from the popularity of the pattern work. However, with critics such as Owen Jones, Richard Redgrave and Henry Cole, the idea of examining Indian techniques both on a decorative, technical and practical level, became a legitimate subject for discussion.

The British Design Reform movement largely headed by Cole and Redgrave, called for a more manageable and practical approach to surface pattern. Their was an insistence that pattern work should be representative of and sympathetic to the discipline of textiles, in other words that flat pattern work should be twinned with the flat medium of textiles. This called into question contemporary ideas concerning the three dimensional trickery involved in so much European pattern work that was not only limited to printed textiles but included carpet, tapestry and embroidery work. That this could also be expanded into surface pattern work reproduced in the decorative format of ceramics, glass, metal, stone and wood, shows that European decoration during this period, had some serious and fundamental problems.

Indian Cotton Prints of the Nineteenth Century The Design Reform movement was particularly interested in the concept of Indian textile work as it was standard throughout the Indian industry not to use any form of shadow, which by definition gave pattern work the illusion of dimension. Therefore, as far as Cole and others were concerned, Indian textile work was a perfect representation of an industry that was intrinsically aware of the limitations of a discipline such as textile design. It was strenuously hoped that the British industry would understand the decorative principles by which the Indian textile industry was founded and follow suit, opening up a new and more creatively productive phase of the British textile industry.