I was watching the Genius of Design last Friday night – it’s an excellent five part series produced by the BBC showing what design is and how it affects our lives. I just had to take some (slightly skewiff) ‘on screen’ pictures on a section about William Morris. As part of the Morris review they visited the National Archive in Kew to view sample textile books from the 19th Century.
These books are textile samples sent in by British textile manufacturers in 1883. The archive was set up in 1839 so manufacturers could obtain copyright for their designs. The books are actual snippets cut from cloth produced at the time. The sheer volume of textiles sent in during 1883 show how important textile manufacturing was in the UK at that time. Lucky Max Donnelly was able to flick through these and draw out Morris’s textiles.
In general (and I say this from what I’ve seen on this programme), the fabrics produced at this time experimented with vivid colourways and repeated images. Morris, on the other hand used a more natural form and this set him aside from intensively machine- produced textiles of the day.
William Morris believed in the craft of textile design and disagreed with the way industrialisation took over this skill, coupled with very poor working conditions of the time. He took the craft and set up small working environments and hand-made all his textiles. Because of this labour-intensive textile making, his textiles were much more expensive and thus only available to the affluent. This was particularly distressing to William Morris as he felt he was a slave to the upper classes.
Influenced by this series I bought a book to give me a bit more insight, and since have started to collect and sell Morris textiles (albeit reproduction). x