5. Children’s drawings in a calico book

By Zara Kesterton (@ZaraKesterton)

The V&A holds a large collection of textile designs by William Kilburn, one of the most innovative designers of eighteenth-century Britain.[1] Born in Dublin in 1745, Kilburn completed his apprenticeship at a cotton printing factory before moving to London to establish himself in the trade. He specialised in botanical motifs, depicting familiar and exotic flowers. The botanist William Curtis noticed Kilburn’s skill and employed him as an illustrator for Flora Londinenses (1777–1798), a six-volume botanical book describing flowers from and around London. Kilburn’s illustrations and his textile designs achieved considerable success. He presented one of his finest muslin designs, printed with a sea-weed pattern, to Queen Charlotte. However, the declining London textile industry forced Kilburn out of business in 1802.

Design for printed cotton, William Kilburn, c. 1788-1792, E.894:145/1-1978, V&A.

The book shown here is Kilburn’s order book from the late eighteenth century. It contains simple hand-painted calico designs and entries dated between 1799 and 1800.[2] They are overlaid by snippets of popular prints, children’s drawings, and inscriptions. These appear to date from the early-to-mid nineteenth century. They are a fascinating mix of children’s literature, nursery rhymes, military costumes, and illustrations from literary texts such as Shakespeare. Someone has doodled the name ‘Henry’ on one page, and over the top is an inscription to ‘Douglas Charles Kilburn with Grandma’s Love of 1859’. Another inscription reads that the ‘[g]ood boy is verry much pleased with the book his kind papa gave him.’ It is likely that the book was passed down through the children of the family as a memento of their famous ancestor. The result is a fascinating compilation of ephemera and unselfconscious children’s drawings. It is also a heart-warming artefact from the family of a significant textile designer.

Image 3, E.14:1 to 60-2019, V&A.
Image 15, E.14:1 to 60-2019, V&A.
Image 21, E.14:1 to 60-2019, V&A.
Image 22, E.14:1 to 60-2019, V&A.

Featured image: 29, E.14:1 to 60-2019, V&A.


[1] ‘Rococo textile designs by William Kilburn’, V&A Museum London, https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/rococo-textile-designs-by-william-kilburn#slideshow=208544&slide=0.

[2] E.14:1 to 60-2019, V&A. https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1375170/order-book-belonging-to-william-album-kilburn-william/

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