Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Amazing William Morris

On a recent trip to Europe I visited some beautiful textile museums, probably the most inspiring being the William Morris Museum in London. Situated in his old family home, it is a great overview of his life and work.

If you’re not familiar with his name, you will definitely recognise Morris' textile designs; intricate, flowing and truly timeless, they are just as admired today as they were when first produced in the late 1800's.

Some of William Morris' most popular designs.
Morris' ever-evolving business started as an interior design consultancy firm which also produced the items they used to ‘deck-out’ some of the wealthiest people’s homes of the time. He was a big player in the Arts and Crafts movement and eagerly encouraged the resurgence of traditional British textile arts and artisan manufacturing. Morris was quite revolutionary in his socialist views, he despised the Industrial Revolution and the ugliness it brought with it.

Hand drawn and painted wall paper design, fabric length and wood block-cut at the William Morris Museum.
I found the similarities of the textile manufacturing world that Morris lived in and our own local textile industry fascinating. The difficulties he faced such as ethical manufacturing and affordability for the ‘everyday’ person are very much topical for us at Frankie and Swiss and for many of our customers. He had setbacks and failures along the way (like painting a hall at Oxford University without proper preparation so that it faded within months) which is always encouraging to hear that these kind of things can happen to the most successful of people!

Wall paper and textile swatches in the museum. (We like Morris' views on gentler dyes and colours!)
I also visited museums in France, Switzerland and more in England with some of the most incredible textile pieces. The richness of the textiles and garments that were created even from very early times across Europe and the Middle East always blows me away. 

Beautiful embroideries and jacquard woven fabric at Musee des Tissus in Lyon, France.
Another must-see destination for me in England was Chatsworth House (if you're an Austen nerd like me, it's Pemberley in the 2007 movie). What I loved most about this stately home was the way the beautiful, old artworks, furniture and home-wares were displayed alongside modern art pieces. The juxtaposition gave a life to the house and showed the older pieces in a new light - very different from some of the stuffy old castles! It gave modern art and design a place in the history of the house. Check out the incredible modern art exhibition of chairs they currently have scattered through the house here.

Antique Japanese wallpaper, heavily embroidered curtains and a modern art chair installation at Chatsworth House.
Back in the studio and I'm still of course getting to see beautiful, printed textiles. 


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