Staff from Morris & Co. first saw our beautiful embroidered Owl wall hanging when they visited Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (where it’s currently stored) back in 2009. When they decided to produce a larger embroidery-inspired collection in 2017, the photographs they took on that occasion became a key inspiration for the Newill fabric shown here (named after Mary Newill, who was teacher of needlework at Birmingham School of Art from 1892 to 1919).
Creating a new Morris & Co collection is no small feat. Each collection takes eighteen months to develop from initial idea to finished product, a process that involves research, drawing, colouring, separating, sourcing, testing and manufacturing. While computer aided design is widely used to streamline and speed up the design process in most professional design studios, it’s not something the company consider appropriate for the origination of Morris & Co. collections. Taking their lead from William Morris’s own allegiance to hand-making, every design is hand-drawn by an artist who uses an original hand-crafted source as inspiration. They regard beauty, balance and something that conjures the spirit of its time and maker as important considerations when choosing design sources. You can gain a sense of the variety of stitches and characterful design that made our Owl hanging such an appealing starting point for a modern furnishing textile from this image of a detail.
The final image shows the artwork painted by designer Alison Gee, using motifs from the original embroidery and rearranging them to create a balanced, repeating design. The process of adapting embroideries stitched to be used as self-contained panels into flowing repeats was a challenge in developing all the designs in the collection.
Is it one you’d like to take on? If so, we’ve a few examples of smaller embroidered textiles in the Archives here at Parkside. We’re also going to be gaining a larger collection of historical dress that includes lace and embroidered garments dating from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the next few months.