Sometimes you feel an urge to design something different – an applique pattern or a quilting pattern perhaps – but where to start? As I keep telling everyone – I can’t draw; I never got beyond third year in art at school, let alone needlework, so I need to seek help in my book collection. Below are some of the books that I’ve collected over the years – not, initially, for design ideas but because I was studying sciences (botany in particular) and I was intrigued by the use of plants in art, architecture and design. Several of my friends were excellent artists or were studying various artistic subjects at college and so some of their enthusiasm sparked mine. Back then books like these were turning up in second hand shops for not a lot of money and more recently I have come across ones in charity shops now and then.

This first one is typical of the books I was acquiring – A Handbook of Plant-Form – for Students of Design, Art Schools, Teachers and Amateurs by Ernest E Clark was published by Batsford in 1904.

It takes a variety of different plants and with pages of line illustrations shows the different forms of leaf, flower, bud and seed and how these can be used as designs for various purposes. Even the small drawing on the frontispiece is a wonderful, and typical, design.

Applied Art – Drawing, Painting, Design and Handicraft by Pedro J Lemos was published in 1920 in America and distributed in the UK by Batsford.

It is a year by year textbook “arranged for self-instruction of teachers, parents and students” taking you step by step through the elements of drawing and design and then the use of design in various ‘handicrafts’ such as printing, batik, leather work and metalwork. These pages are typical of the ideas and instruction in the book.

This next book is only volume I of two and is Nature and Ornament – I – Nature, the Raw Material of Design by Lewis F Day and published again by Batsford in about 1908 (there’s no publication date but the preface is dated. This book asks “what is ornament?” and goes on to look at the different parts of plants and how they have been used to decorate and ornament various objects. I have yet to find a copy of volume 2 (that I can afford).

Drawing and Designing: in a series of lessons by Charles G Lelenad was published by Whittaker & Co in 1893.

In this little book you are taken through the steps necessary to draw various shapes – circles, triangles, polygons etc and then how to adapt them and combine them to form designs and patterns. These illustrations from the book show drawing different spirals and then fitting circles designs into straight line shapes.

This next book I bought because I fell in love with its cover, rather than its content. Art in Needlework – A Book about Embroidery by Lewis F Day was published by Batsford , originally in 1900, but this is a fifth edition from 1926. Its contents are exactly what the title would lead you to expect. The various embroidery stitches and how to make them are illustrated with line drawings and there are black and white photos of embroideries featuring those stitches. Nothing about design although, now I look, there are four pages on quilting. His definition of to quilt is “to stitch one cloth upon another with something soft in between (or with nothing between).” He explains that having something soft in between means the pattern appears in relief and is more “pleasing” than simple stitching of two layers. I also discover on this page that “the word ‘counterpane’ is derived from the French ‘contre-poinct’ or backstitch, sometimes known as quilting stitch.”

Decorative Brush-Work and Elementary Design by Henry Cadness is another Batsford publication. This is the third edition published in 1909.

A large proportion of the book is taken up with the design element rather than the how-to-do-brushwork – so it describes transferring designs to the material (fabric, paper, wood, ceramic) and then different ways of arranging those simple patterns into more complex arrangements depending on the shapes to be filled and the material being used.

Two slightly more modern books now – the first dating from 1968 is a charity shop find and is what it says: a design catalogue for wrought ironwork and features line drawings of everything from boot scrapers to gates and grates to weathervanes. I love the designs on this page – fabulous ideas for quilting.

My other modern book is a series of electron micrographs from the British Museum of Natural History published in 1971. I worked there during my summer holidays from college and probably bought it then. These pollen grains are fascinating and the patterns on the surface could be adapted for something, surely?!

I think I’ve run out of space this month and I still have more books on my shelves to share with you. We will all have to wait to see what I find next time.