Leslie Tillett

Leslie Tillett learned textile printing from his father, George Tillett, whose family had been in the textile industry for generations in England. He learned dyeing, printing and finishing techniques, and became an expert colorist. In 1940 he moved to Mexico to establish a fabric printing workshop, Artes Tillett, with his brother James.
It was here that he met Doris Doctorow in 1944. After their courtship and marriage, they moved the business to Taxco, an artists’ and writers’ colony, and renamed it Tillett de Taxco. In 1946 the couple returned to the United States and founded House of T Fabrics. Their designs soon became popular with important interior designers like Sister Parish and Albert Hadley, and acquired style-setting clients like Brooke Astor, Babe Paley, and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
Kennedy also enlisted Tillett to participate in a community development project, Design Works, in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Authorized by legislation introduced by Senator Robert Kennedy, Design Works was recognized for the success of its printed fabrics, many inspired by African art, while providing employment to a dozen members of the community. The Tilletts trained the workers in the skills of color mixing and screen printing. Tillett also served in an advisory role to community-based initiatives in Nantucket and Santa Fe.
Tillett also authored and illustrated books about Native American history and the Spanish conquest of Mexico, which was the subject of a tapestry he created over a 25-year period. Inspired by the so-called Bayeux Tapestry, Tillett illustrated over 200 scenes from the conquest, which he had embroidered by women from New York, Mexico and Haiti. The “Tillett Tapestry” debuted at the Museum at FIT and the American Museum of Natural History in 1978, and was subsequently exhibited around the country.

Works associated with this person or group

  • Tablecloth And Napkins, Fish, 1950–1959

    Tablecloth of unbleached linen with serged edges. A design of four fish in the center field and striped borders on four sides are reserved in the natural linen through the…

  • Textile, Drag Box Plaid, 1960–1969

    Cotton with hand-pulled stripes of red, pink, orange, yellow, teal, and light blue, with a plaid of straight and curving lines applied on top in emerald green and navy.

  • Textile, Walnuts

    Length of heavy cotton with rows of walnuts arranged in a grid. Hand-pulled stripe of grays and browns, overprinted with a black background screen which leaves the walnuts in irregular…

  • Textile, Brushstrokes, 1975–1979

    Length of white cotton sateen, screen printed with random brushstrokes in white pigment. Yellow is hand-pulled over entire surface using a drag box tool, to give a tone-on-one effect.

  • Textile, Strié, 1950–1959

    Length of slubbed silk with aqua color hand-applied with drag box tool to create strié effect.

  • Textile, Mini-stripe with scallop, 1970–79

    Narrow length of silk suitable for wallcovering, with narrow stripes of browns and tan in the background, overprinted with a small-scale hand-drawn scallop design in deep brown.

  • Textile, Floral with Lilies, 1970–1979

    Length of off-white cotton canvas with hand-pulled stripe in the background, overprinted with loosely-drawn flowers with taupe leaves and white blooms, outlined in black.

  • Textile, Faux Bois, 1960–1979

    Length of sheer off-white cotton muslin, screen printed with a woodgrain pattern in off-white.

  • Textile, Chrysanthemum, ca. 1960

    Length of off-white cotton canvas screen-printed with painterly clusters of chrysanthemums in green, blue and white.

  • Textile, Peonies, 1970–1979

    Length of off-white cotton canvas screen printed with loosely-drawn peonies, outlined in red and highlighted with white pigment.