H&M col­lec­tion brought Mor­ris de­signs back into fash­ion again

Gloucestershire Echo - - NOSTALGA -

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

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