This section explores the development of textile design in Scotland, how some of the manufacturers used copyright to protect their designs, and the role of the Great Exhibitions in promoting the Turkey red industry.


The printed cotton industry was a design-based industry, with product and market decisions based on a sophisticated understanding of changing fashions, awareness of the cultural meanings of design motifs and colours, technical innovation in printing techniques and a close eye on the activities of rival companies. 

Much of what was produced in the Scottish Turkey red industry was traditional designs for conservative markets like India, with many prints remaining in production for decades. But there was design innovation, and the different firms employed designers and pattern drawers. Moreover, the textile industry more generally was involved in a sustained debate during the course of the nineteenth century over the issue of design education in Britain.

Many companies, including those that feature in the National Museums Scotland Turkey Red Collection, sought to protect their best designs through copyright registration and through punitive employment practices to prevent workers removing samples from factories. The weakness of the law when it came to safeguarding intellectual property such as original design is highlighted by the numerous court cases over alleged design theft, but these cases also give an insight to the design process. Textile manufacturers were notable exhibitors of their wares and the Great Exhibition movement in Britain and abroad provided numerous opportunities for firms to showcase their best products and designs and put them forward for prizes.

  • Elephants and runners, three samples on page

    Elephants and runners, three samples on page
  • Gardener

  • Kamadeva (cupid)

    Kamadeva (cupid)
  • Man with gun and lion

    Man with gun and lion
  • Men, women and cows

    Men, women and cows
  • Yellow flowers

    Yellow flowers

Next: Textile designers >

Text © Stana Nenadic and Sally Tuckett, ‘Colouring the Nation: Design, copyright and exhibition.’

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