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Art & Design

William Kilburn


William Kilburn, textile designer Irish, 1745-1818
Dress, ca. 1790
Block-printed cotton plain weave
Center back length: 172.7 cm (68 inches)
Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund 1987.028

  • William Kilburn trained in Dublin as a textile printer. His primary talent lay in drawing patterns for block printing, and once he arrived in London his designs were immediately successful. The seaweed-patterned fabric used for this dress was expensive: a guinea per yard. Kilburn gave a similar length for a gown to Queen Charlotte, wife of England’s George III. No actual textiles by Kilburn were previously believed to have survived, but just before RISD purchased this dress in 1987 the printed design was found in an album of Kilburn watercolor drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The dress’s style indicates that it was probably made when the textile was brand new and at its most fashionable, about 1790.

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