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What do brooms and butterflies have in common? They are just two of the many everyday things that charmed Andy Warhol and which he celebrated in his commercial textile designs.

Long before the famous Campbell’s Soup can paintings, Andy Warhol worked as a commercial illustrator and excelled at creating fresh, whimsical textile prints at a time when a post-war generation wanted new ideas for ready-to-wear clothes.

At Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh, Andy Warhol: The Textiles presents a collection of fabric panels, clothing, and prints on paper from Warhol’s commercial design career in New York in the 1950s and ’60s.

Though some of us may be familiar with Warhol’s shoe illustrations, which have shown up on everything from calendars to scarves, there was so much more in his art box. Warhol drew insects, garden tools, socks, hats, sewing notions, buttons, flowers, pretzels, fruit, and more.

Along with his clever use of humble objects to populate his designs, Warhol’s broken blotted line technique gave his work a distinctive look. Take, for instance, at these lemons. See how the outlines are thick and thin—a bit like a slub yarn. Warhol developed this technique as a student at Carnegie Institute of Technology.

The curators explain: “This was the result of a simple printing process that consisted of his drawing of an image being traced over with ink, section by section. While still wet, the inked tracing was then pressed onto a sheet of absorbent paper, reproducing the broken outline of the original. This could be repeated a number of times to create a finished design for a textile.”

So, whether Warhol’s designs were destined for textiles, gift wrap, or greeting cards, he could take his original drawing, retrace it with his broken blotted line, and reuse or re-color it to suit paying clients.

So, where did these whimsical designs ultimately show up? Can you believe JC Penney! How I wish I could go back in time and buy this skirt.

And what about this dress made from Warhol’s “Happy Butterfly Day” design? It was sold in Atlantic City, New Jersey, at a shop called The Needlecraft, which was patronized by none other than Elizabeth Taylor.

Hats, luggage tags, perfume bottles, measuring tapes, and candy apples. Anything to hand was a potential subject. Often Warhol would cluster variations on these objects into little groups which would then make repeat patterns. But he also created narrative scenes such as this clown who jumps from one horse to the next while completing a somersault in the air. The clown can perpetually somersault across the hem of a skirt or the bottom of a curtain.

Initially, Warhol’s designs were destined for cotton or furnishing fabrics, but as polyester took over the market in the sixties, manufacturers applied his designs to new materials as well. Here’s a polyester fabric featuring his candy apple design manufactured by Stehli Silks Corporation and made up as a dress in the early ’60s by Alexa in California.

His work was printed onto silk, too. This ice cream design became one of Warhol’s most famous commercial designs, and it was to be one of his last when his studio art career eclipsed his commercial work.

Though Warhol would shift his focus to large-scale studio artwork and happenings in his factory, his commercial design work was invaluable when he came to employ multiples, everyday objects, and production line methods in his pop art.

The archive of his commercial designs is growing because it’s now a field of discovery and research for Warhol enthusiasts and scholars. Warhol kept scant records of his early design work because, for him, it was just work—something to keep him going financially in New York.

We owe this exhibition and the emerging catalog of Warhol’s commercial textile designs to the determination of the shows curators, collectors Richard Chamberlain and Geoff Rayner. They’ve spent a decade looking through manufacturer’s archives and trawling the internet to hunt down examples.

For instance, when they saw a picture of the butterfly dress in a 1960s issue of Glamour magazine in the Victoria & Albert Museum archives, they began looking for the actual dress. Eventually, they found it on the website of a vintage clothes shop in New Mexico and bought it. These are the kinds of scavenger hunts necessary to bring the full story of Warhol’s commercial design work to light.

For myself, I’m just imagining walking down the boardwalk in Atlantic City in a candy apple printed dress wearing my coordinating hand-knitted cardigan enjoying an Andy Warhol ice cream. Let’s go!

Andy Warhol: The Textiles runs at Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh until May 18. You can learn more about Warhol’s broken blotted line technique and give it a try yourself by visiting the Andy Warhol Museum’s YouTube Channel.

About The Author

Jeni Hankins is an American performing artist, writer, and maker living in London and Lancashire. Since 2008, she’s toured extensively throughout the USA, Canada, and the UK. Find her recordings on Bandcamp and catch up with her musings on Substack.


  • Cool article and the link to see Warhol’s technique was fascinating. Lovely inspiration to start my day!

    • Thank you for this truly inspiring post. I have been to a couple of Warhol exhibits in the Chicago area and neither touched on the textiles work.

  • Just visited the Warhol museum in Pittsburgh last month. Liked the cabinet showing what he collected of everyday objects. Interesting to see this aspect too.

  • I can picture you in that dress on A warm summer day!

  • Good read, thank you

  • Can his designs be reproduced now on fabric? Could a clothing company do this? I’d buy!!
    It would be great!!

  • These are so cool! I grew up in Philadelphia and my grandparents often went to Atlantic City on vacation. My grandmother loved prints so now I am going to go through family photos from the fifties/sixties and see if I can spot the ice cream dress – the prints all seem familiar — and I can definitely picture her wearing something like that. Fun, wish I could get to Scotland to see the show.

  • Thanks, Jeni – I didn’t know and really enjoyed learning about Warhol’s early designs. Now, I want to use that fabric to make project bags!!

  • This is fascinating—I had no idea! Thanks.

  • Wow! I love such crossover talent being unveiled to us. And as a better seamster than knitter, anything to do with textiles and dress making catches my eye. Thanks, Jeni, for all this!

  • I’ve seen some butterfly prints on t-shirts lately. Maybe others has been doing some archive searching recently? Very interesting snapshot of Andy. More revealing than his studied poses later on. Thank you for this interesting article. (Wish I could go to Edinburgh.)

  • I loved this article! I had no idea that Andy Warhol did such fabulous work.

  • I have been to the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, but don’t recall seeing anything like this! Thanks for the tour!

  • Oh my gosh; I definitely would have worn the candy apple dress in the 60’s. Reminds me of some of the prints I used to make outfits for high school.
    Thank you for such a great article!

  • My father was a commercial artist and spoke often and highly of Andy Warhol’s work. I assume that his estate and copyright restrictions prohibit production printing of his designs now, what a pity! Thanks for this letter, its wonderful to see his designs!

  • I am a big fan of Warhol, but do much of the Curator’s scavenger hunt of garments is new to me. What a breath of fresh air and inspiration!

  • How I wish I could go to Edinburgh and see this exhibit!

  • I actually have a goodish sized hunk of the blue/green/teal butterfly print fabric–my mom bought it in the early 60’s to make my sister a skirt. I LOVE it and had NO idea Andy Warhol designed it! That is so far out!

  • Wish we could buy clothing today that was unique!
    Fashion has really gone away!

  • Adore his textiles! I wonder if they will be reproduced??

  • So much more to the darling of society art circle!
    I plan to experiment with his ink technique.

  • Great article! More of this please.

  • The Warhol fabric designs and dresses using those fabrics really surprised and pleased me. Thanks for bringing this to my attention in your article.

  • Enough to launch us all on a treasure hunt. So interesting. Fine sleuthing and thank you.

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