Goodall Fabrics

Susan Brown

In many ways, Dorothy Liebes was the model of the modern textile designer. She pioneered an experimental way of working as a creative adjunct to industry that shaped the textile field over her four-decade career. Her handwoven samples sometimes served as models for direct translation on power looms, but at other times they were prompts instigating further exploration of the capacities of the loom. “I look upon hand-weaving as a laboratory for the machine,” she wrote. “I have the greatest respect for the machine, but experience proves that it must be used with imagination.” [1] 

Perhaps her most important step in this direction was her collaboration with Goodall Fabrics. Goodall started out in the 19th century as a mill specializing in mohair carriage blankets and moquettes (hard-wearing but often prickly upholsteries used in railway cars). In the 1920s, Goodall successfully blended mohair with cotton to create lightweight men’s suiting fabrics and was looking for other ways to increase the market for mohair through “blended fabrics.”  

The company hired Liebes as a stylist and colorist in 1940. Since opening her handweaving studio in San Francisco a decade earlier, she had earned a reputation for combining an unusually broad array of materials in her custom handwoven fabrics. She advised on pattern, texture, and color and provided hand-woven samples for translation on power looms, helping Goodall improve the look and feel of its power-loomed fabrics (Fig. 1). Before, during, and after World War II, high tariffs and import restrictions made maintaining a steady supply of high-quality materials from Europe and Asia impossible, so Liebes’s experimental style became even more important. She hired a chemist from Stanford to help her test new materials being proposed as substitutes for restricted materials, including rayon town yarn, jute, and vinylite. 

The company’s leadership embraced her experimental approach, allowing her to work directly on the factory floor with the technicians to adapt the looms to tolerate a wider range of yarn weights and textures (Fig. 2). As she recounted it in her unpublished memoir at the Archives of American Art, the company’s president, Elmer Ward, told his technicians, “You let Mrs. Liebes go as crazy as she wants to. It’s your job to make it feasible.” [2] Goodall recognized her influence on the trade, retailers, and the public, and by 1947, Liebes’s name and image were appearing regularly in sales and training scripts, advertisements, and promotional displays (Fig. 3). The Goodall fabrics were also popular with interior designers; long-time Liebes collaborator William Pahlmann used them frequently, including for model rooms for Lord & Taylor (Figs. 4, 5 & 6).  

Liebes was committed to making high-quality interiors fabrics and furnishings accessible at all price points. As a New York Times reviewer noted in 1942 of the Goodall collaboration, “The machine-made textiles place fabrics hitherto reserved for those in the upper income brackets within the price range of the average person.” [3] Liebes set new standards of good design and expanded the horizons of the textile industry by innovating with new fibers and developing new textiles in partnership with industrial producers. “Beautiful things made by hand can be and are interpreted by power looms and in many cases so well that it’s practically impossible to tell the difference,” she proclaimed. “We are proud of this.” [4] 



[1] Barbara E. Scott Fisher, “Cork, Bamboo, Lace, Ticker Tape: Dorothy Liebes Puts Them All Into Fabrics,” Christian Science Monitor, December 24, 1941.   

[2] Dorothy Liebes, autobiography (unpublished ms). Series 4, Box 4, Folder 10, p. 287; Dorothy Liebes Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. 

[3] “Liebes Textiles On Display Here,” New York Times, October 20, 1942. 

[4] “Weavers Learn New Art: Liebes Approves Mass Production in Providing Good Designs for All,” Oregonian (Portland, OR), May 5, 1955.  

Fig. 1 Sample of blue and pink plaid fabric with smaller sample of blue twill attached at the upper left corner.

Fig. 1 Textile sample, Harlequin Plaid, circa 1941; Designed by Dorothy Liebes for Goodall Fabrics; Twill-woven mohair, cotton, wool, cellulose acetate butyrate–laminated aluminum yarn; Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, Museum purchase through gift of Mrs. John Innes Kane, 1948-26-18

Fig. 2 Black and white photograph of a man and woman standing in front of an industrial loom; the man holds a shuttle and the woman holds a sketch.

Fig. 2 Dorothy Liebes with Ernst Spence at Goodall Fabrics factory, Sanford, Maine, ca. 1948; Dorothy Liebes Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Fig. 3 Advertisement reading “Creative Artistry of Tomorrow” with black-and-white photographs of Dorothy Liebes and various fabric samples.

Fig. 3 Advertisement for Goodall Decorative Fabrics, Interiors, June 1944

Fig. 4 Off-white fabric with alternating wide and narrow bands of fringe.

Fig. 4 Textile, 1946; Designed by Dorothy Liebes for Goodall Fabrics; Woven wool, cotton, metallic yarn with supplementary weft pile; Museum of Arts and Design, New York, Gift of Dorothy Liebes Design and Ralph Higbee, through the American Craft Council, 1973.2.9

Fig. 5 Color photograph of a living room with marble walls and fireplace, white sofa, white blinds and draperies, and several bright pink poufs.

Fig. 5 8 Exhibition Room at Lord & Taylor, New York City, 1941; Styled by William Pahlmann (American, 1900–1987); Drapes designed by Dorothy Liebes for Goodall Fabrics; Blinds designed by Dorothy Liebes; From Decorative Art 1942—The Studio Year Book, edited by C. G. Holme (London: Studio Ltd., 1942); Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Fig. 6 Advertisement reading “Did you see how William Pahlmann uses Goodall Fabrics by Dorothy Liebes,” with various newspaper clippings above, on a brown background.

Fig. 6 Advertisement for Goodall Fabrics; clipping in Dorothy Liebes Studio Scrapbook 1939. Series 8, Box 24, Folder 2, Dorothy Liebes Papers

Susan Brown

Susan Brown is Associate Curator and Acting Head of Textiles at Cooper Hewitt, where she has curated over a dozen exhibitions, including Fashioning Felt (2009), Color Moves: Art and Fashion by Sonia Delaunay (2011), Scraps: Fashion, Textiles and Creative Reuse (2016), Suzie Zuzek for Lilly Pulitzer: The Prints that Made the Fashion Brand (2021), and A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes (2023).