In 1783 Thomas Bell took out a patent for printing textiles from engraved metal rollers. The circumference of the roller limited the height of the repeat but the process was fast. In 1794 the Jouy printworks in France, for example, were roller-printing 5400 metres of fabric per day, which was the equivalent to the work of 42 block-printers. In the 1820s and 1830s metal rollers became more elaborate and were sometimes intricately engraved to produce minute, fancy patterns on the ground. It was a common practice to add areas of solid colour with wooden 'surface' rollers and some parts of the dark yellow on this textile have not registered correctly - for example, the dark yellow beak of the parent bird in the lower left has been printed to one side.
Technical improvements in textile production coincided with radical improvements in the manufacture and use of new dyestuffs; an entirely new range of mineral colours became available after about 1817. Most inventions were made in mainland Europe and the processes were kept secret so that they had to be re-invented in other countries. The chrome yellow used in this piece was invented by Koechlin in Mulhouse, France in 1819 and later reproduced in England by John Mercer in 1823. The blue was known as 'steam blue'. Steaming was introduced in Lancashire about 1813 and could fix some of the impermanent pigments used in the mass production of printed textiles. If they were not fixed, they were sometimes called 'fancy' or 'spirit' colours.
The birds and flowers in these designs are taken from Birds of America by John James Audubon (1785-1851) who was born in San Domingo in the Caribbean but was educated in France. At the age of 18 he was sent to America where he began to draw birds in their natural habitat. He found an engraver in Edinburgh, William Home Lizars, but they had published only ten of his drawings before a strike forced Audubon to transfer the work to Havell & Sons of London who published the other 425 drawings. Birds of America first appeared as separate plates in 1827 and as a volume in 1830.