When we talk about Liberty, we often think of floral print fabrics, with a rather art deco style. Or Paisley style.
In fact, it is much more than that. Behind, there is an English brand: Liberty London, a man’s vision, a century-old history, a know-how, and a specific quality. And if many people call Liberty fabrics simple floral fabrics, the real Liberty fabrics have a quite remarkable quality.
In short, the real Liberty fabric is a very soft, fine, silky and solid cotton, with sophisticated patterns and colors. Historically. Because nowadays, beyond this great classic, the Liberty London brand has expanded its range of fabrics, and also offers accessories.
To understand now what makes the specificity of the “historical” Liberty fabric, which we call “lawn”.
Technically, Liberty fabrics are plain weave, which is the simplest (others being twill, satin, velvet, …), where each thread goe alternately over / under the others:
The difference with, say, burlap is the level of fineness at which this weave is achieved. And what allows Liberty fabrics to have this fine and silky texture is: very fine yarn + very tight weave. This kind of fabric is also called batiste.
When today, most of cotton fabrics are made of short and rather thick staples, while those from Liberty of London have thin and very long staples. Meaning, concretely, that it is a bit closer to silk, which is globally thiner and far more longer (1 filament measures between 500m and 1500m).
What means long? Normal” cotton has an average length of about 2.5 cm (1 inch), or even less. For extra-long, it is 3.5 cm, and up to 6cm. Long fibers make better yarns, both stronger and finer, because all the fibers are better intertwined over longer distances.
With a coarse thread, a plain weave looks like this:
When you switch to a particularly fine thread, the roughness becomes imperceptible. For the skin and for the eyes, it looks smooth, and silky.
Then, with a finer and stronger thread, we can also weave more tightly, with more threads per cm² / square inch. In concrete terms, this results in a more stable fabric, but also more resistant to deformation and friction. And therefore, much stronger than it may seem.
Another advantage of the very tight weave is that the threads are so tightly bound to each other that the fabric is less likely to wrinkle, and more solid. While remaining soft.
The combination of fine yarn + tight weave gives a fabric that is both fine AND dense, smooth, silky, light … with all the softness of cotton. In fact, it’s exactly the same as when you compare sweaters made of sheep’s wool and cashmere goat hair.
Often, associated with the name Liberty, you will see “Tana lawn”. This refers to the Ethiopian lake Tana, where a buyer of Liberty found a high quality cotton, in the 20s. Liberty’s cottons now come from Egypt. As for lawn, it would be derived from the city of Laon on France, where batistes were made. Which is an equivalent of cambric, wihich could come from the city of Cambrai, also in France
Liberty cotton is also mercerized. This consists in applying an alkaline treatment (soda, ammonia, …) on the cotton, which will strengthen it, and make it shiny and easier to dye. What enables to have a fabric even silkier, and with brighter and more homogeneous colors.
And the prints? Like for Hermès, they are designed by real artists. Some date back to the 17th century. Liberty’s archives include nearly 40,000 of them.
We can also mention that Liberty has worked with St Laurent, Gucci, Uniqlo, Nike, Manolo Blahnik, … And of course, many English brands: Barbour; Vivienne Westwood, Doc Martens,
In short, you now know what Liberty fabrics are, and why.
Are they unique? Yes and no.
Nowadays, Liberty does not make its own batistes; they are subcontracted to different manufacturers in Europe … which, of course, also produce for others. What remains specific are the patterns and the dyeing, which is done in Liberty’s new factory in Italy.
Here are some examples of what I do with Liberty fabrics: