The Story of Liberty London
August 09, 2023

The Story of Liberty London

source: Liberty London

Why we are talking about it today

Image above shows some of the first Liberty prints, these were drawn by hand from as long ago as 1890.

Liberty fabrics are synonymous with children's clothing. Pure cotton of the highest quality, they're good for young skin, and the whimsical, colourful prints designed by Liberty over the many, many years tend to complement the structure of childish designs and the adventures of childhood. The prettiest cotton floral girl's dresses and floral cotton baby rompers are often made of Liberty London fabric. We're talking about it because many of the brands we carry include Liberty dresses, Liberty London overalls, Liberty London skirts and Liberty London tops in their seasonal collections. Sew Heritage, Twin & Chic, Pi&Pa, La Petite Collection and of course Pesciolino Rosso who use Liberty London fabrics with prints designed exclusively for them. Pieces designed with these fabrics are usually more expensive than the same design in a different fabric, and it's important to know why that is. 


Organic, Tana Lawn Liberty fabric in used in this season's capsule designed with Sew Heritage

A Brief History

Quickly, about Arthur Liberty himself: he was a visionary. He built a brand that is as relevant in 2023 as it was in 1875. He opened his emporium laden with luxury goods (rugs, decorative objects) and fabrics from distant lands in 1875 with a £2000 loan from his father in law. It was called 'East India House' and within 18 months, he was able to pay his loan off in full. The son of a draper, he had, before that, worked in London for a cloak and shawl emporium on Regent Street (Farmer & Rogers) where he managed the 'Oriental Warehouse'. At the time, exhibitions were booming, and London had showcased a 'Japanese Pavilion' for the first time at the International Exhibition in Kensington - his inspiration. 

Having poured over his story, we think these are the two most significant decisions he made to secure the future and longevity of the Liberty brand: firstly, he quickly decided to import raw fabrics and have them printed in England in the elaborate, intricate, colourful style of the orient rather than importing them printed, buying a printworks in 1910. This allowed him to build the 'Made in England' heritage. Secondly, by choosing to work with well known artists of the moment (like William Morris), to draw prints, he secured a position at the forefront of the artistic and cultural movement of the time. 

'Liberty is the chosen resort of the artistic shopper' - Oscar Wilde

We can't complete a brief history of Liberty without noting the development of Tana Lawn cotton, the uniquely long fibres for which were discovered by a Liberty buyer in 1930, William Hayes Dorell, near Lake Tana, Ethiopia. These fibres formed the basis of over a century of Liberty fabric development: woven from 70 and 100 ply yarns and subjected to a lengthy series of preparations to ensure its distinctive qualities of handle, lustre and stability, it has a thread count of 240. No cotton is lighter, softer, or more durable, one of the finest cotton weaves ever made.


source: Liberty London


source: Liberty London
'Made in England'. Merton Abbey Printworks (which Liberty bought in 1910)

Let's get nerdy about fabric

So what makes a Liberty fabric, often marked by a signature purple hangtag, a Liberty fabric? It's the weave, rather than the print. The print is something special in it's own right - hand drawn artworks by a vast array of artists, artisans and print designers that draw upon a heritage of over 45,000 archive prints - but it's the weave of the cotton that sets a true Liberty fabric apart from similar looking counterparts. 

Cotton is a 'plain weave'. Threads go over and under each other. (Twill is, for example, its own weave, as is satin and velvet, for example, is a pile weave)

So, it's the level of fineness at which this weave is achieved that improves the perceived quality of the fabric - the longer and finer the threads are (like the ones originally found at Lake Tana, specially selected ultra-fine long staple cotton) the more tightly they can be woven, and the more tightly they are woven, the softer and more fluttering the fabric will be. Here we find the answer as to why true Liberty fabric is so popular for children. Not only is it cotton, and very soft against young, sensitive and fussy skin, but it is in fact more robust and durable than looser weaves. It is more resistant to deformation and friction and less likely to wrinkle.

A course burlap sack, loosely woven with short, thick yarn, might LOOK more durable but in fact, our Darrell Trousers are much more likely to survive sliding down a tree trunk...


Some of the most popular prints for children of all time: Betsy, Capel, Wiltshire & Michelle. Source: The Charming Press