H&M collection brought Morris designs back into fashion again
with Kirsty Hartsiotis from The Wilson Art Gallery & Museum, Cheltenham
WILLIAM Morris is most famous today for the designs he made for wallpaper and fabric.
These designs have gone in and out of style since they were first designed for the 1860s to the 1890s.
They came into fashion along with Pre-raphaelite art and an interest in alternative ways of living back in the late 1960s, and then were fashionable in rather beige tones in the 1980s.
Today, Morris’s designs are in fashion again – not only on furnishing fabric and wallpapers, but for clothes and accessories as well.
Last year, fashion chain H&M released a range of inspired by his patterns (sometimes to be seen being worn around the museum by members of the team) and several magazines and papers have declared that Arts and Crafts design is back in fashion for the home – and there was even a television programme about trying live as the makers did this year, in which The Wilson’s objects featured.
We’re making a few changes in our Arts and Crafts Movement Gallery next week, and one of the pieces coming out is a piece of printed cotton produced by Morris & Co, called Bird and Anemone, designed in 1881.
Our piece was made quite a few years later, in the 1920s or 30s as Morris and Co. went on producing his designs after Morris died.
It’s unusual for a Morris design in that it was made to be use for both fabric and wallpaper – and it’s only in one colour. It’s made by indigo discharge printing.
Morris was very interested in the techniques that translated his designs from paper to product. He became fascinated with dying cloth and his daughter May describes his hands being purple with dye!
He wanted to revive the natural plant dyes that had been used before synthetic aniline dyes were brought in a few years before.
Indigo had always been considered the best blue dye – better than the native woad, which produces a lighter blue. Indigo is made from a member of the bean family that grows in Asia and Africa, Indigofera tinctoria.
Morris says, `All shades of blue can be got by this means, from the pale `watchet’, as our forefathers called it, up to the blue which the 18th-century French dyers called `Bleu d’enfer. Navy Blue is the politer name for it.’
Morris means polite because the literal translation of the French could be read as `hell blue’ – but actually means something like great or amazing blue!
Watchet blue is named after the alabaster found in the cliffs of the Somerset seaside town.
Although it’s just one colour, indigo discharge printing is tricky to master.
An early 20th century Morris and Co. catalogue describes how it’s done: “The cloth is first dyed all over in an indigo vat to a uniform depth of blue, and is then printed with a bleaching reagent which either reduces or removes the colour as required by the design.”
Sounds easy? This is what Morris says about it: “I must add that, though this seems an easy process, the setting of the blue-vat is a ticklish job, and requires, I should say, more experience than any other dyeing process.”
It took three days to set up the dye in the vats. However, when his works moved to Merton Abbey on the River Wandle in south west London, the soft water from the river made the product – and the process – better.
Come and see the new displays next week, and if you fancy a little Bird and Anemone for yourself, we stock the design on a variety of items in our shop.
If you want to see what’s fashionable in jewellery today, visit our new exhibition Mishapes, exploring the work of jewellery designers Tatty Devine, on until November 3 2019.
Bird and Anemone was designed by William Morris in 1881