Textiles Guru: Elizabeth Tarpley

Textiles fabrics and dress 1946 edition

Elizabeth Tarpley was a textiles expert of the early 20th century, and a woman who knew her own mind.  She taught what was then called Home Economics at the University of Texas at Austin. She was faculty there for 34 years, starting in 1927, and head of the Division of Textiles and Clothing for 19 of them.

Full disclosure: Ms. Tarpley was my great-aunt, known to us as Wupa. Like much of my father’s family, she went to Peabody College, now part of Vanderbilt University, for her undergraduate degree; later Columbia for her Masters.

Ms. Tarpelynwrote two books with colleague Lucy Rathbone. I own only the one still on Amazon (in several editions):  Fabrics and Dress (1931), which had editions printed over nearly twenty years.She also published Fashions and Fabrics (1962) in addition to many magazine articles. She was also a consultant to a number of organizations, from the National Institute of Dyers and Cleaners to Macy’s Bureau of Standards.  She worked with the Ford Foundation in India, and studied textiles all over the world.  Nowadays it is referred to as being “engaged” in her work.

We have a fond story of her return from India.  She was enamored of Indian cotton and refused to wear anything else.  That makes a deal of sense in hot Austin summers, except this was in the early 1970’s, when natural fibers were out of vogue in the US and about impossible to get. It was polyester everywhere there for a while.

My father called her every week, on Sunday afternoon, until her death in  1993.

Here is the Tarpley Memoriam from the University of Texas