William Hayes Dorrell was a British fabric buyer in the 1920ies for the fashionable and elegant shop in London called Liberty’s. It opened in 1875 and began importing fabrics from Japan, China and India. His travels seeking the most deluxe and durable fabrics took him all across the globe. It was in Lake Tana (source of the Nile River) here in Ethiopia where he first came across the finest thread count cotton. He was enthusiastic to introduce this cotton when he returned to London and it was used to produce a variety of colorful floral prints, which were called Tana Lawn reflecting their source. The printed fabric became instantly popular.
The rich soil on the banks of the Nile is ideal for growing the long cotton fibers of cotton which are turned into a very fine yarn. Although the first sourcing was made on the banks of Lake Tana in Ethiopia, over time the sourcing moved further down the Nile into Egypt and this fine cotton is now sourced from Egypt.
This floral fabric still remains one of the most popular and durable best selling Liberty print fabrics with more than 43,000 Liberty prints still in existence with 120 new designs released each year. The cool crisp cotton of Tana Lawn is actually the most famous fine cotton in the world chosen for its similarity to silk with its very fine thread count, luxuriously light feel and durability.
This certainly resembles the highland Ethiopian cotton that produces the ubiquitous fine Ethiopian netelas/shawls cool in summer and warm in winter!
I do think that it is a shame however that the cotton first sourced and used to produce their best-loved design is no longer sourced from Ethiopia but perhaps will be again as Ethiopia seeks to establish itself as an international player and exporter of fine products such as cotton, coffee and leather!
However, it is great to observe a tribute to Ethiopia on display in the famous fabric hall of Liberty’s of London www.liberty.co.uk
COTTON: Taking its name from Lake Tana in Ethiopia where the original cotton grew, Tana Lawn cotton is unique. Made from specially selected ultra-fine long staple cotton and finished without the use of crease resistant chemicals or irritating allergens, the result is a famous masterpiece of fabric technology; fine, cool, comfortable and durable, with brilliant reproduction of colours and prints.