Posted by: marymarthatours | July 18, 2013

Why William Morris?

Wm Morris, age 53, PD

William Morris, age 53

Several travelers on our upcoming Quilts & Textiles of England & Wales tour in the UK have wondered why I was so eager to include some sites on the itinerary connected to one man – William Morris.  Even if you know nothing about him, you still have probably seen some of the designs he created for textiles and Victorian-era wallpaper.  A couple of years ago, newly purchased books left Barnes & Nobles in Morris-patterned paper bags!

I consider Morris to be a Renaissance man of Victorian England.  He was born into wealth and from a young age was immersed in the art and lore of the Middle Ages.  He attended Oxford University where he became friends with artists Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Rossetti, who was one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.  Morris and Burne-Jones also painted in the Pre-Raphaelite style.  Morris was a creative man in many ways – artist, textile and wallpaper pattern designer, furniture designer, philosopher, poet, author, printer, social reformer, and a shining star in the British Arts and Crafts Movement.

KelmscottManor, Boerkevitz, CCASA3.0

Kelmscott Manor

We will learn about William Morris in depth from our guide when we tour Kelmscott Manor in the Cotswolds.  Kelmscott is a treasure chest full of Morris gems and jewels from his family and fellow Pre-Raphaelites.  Mary and I visited there in 1999.  I love the tapestry, the first and only one Morris made to learn how it’s done – WOW.  And the fabulously embroidered bed dressings made by Morris’ wife and daughter, May, as a gift for him – Double WOW.

Wm. Morris gallery,Walthamstow, David Gerard, CCASA3.0

William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow

On our free day in London, I hope to revisit the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow.  Maybe some travelers will join me.  The Gallery has recently been totally renovated as a showcase museum.  The exhibit in September will display contemporary embroideries by Nicola Jarvis.  Nicola attended the Royal School of Needlework and is now a professional embroidery designer and teacher.  She won top honors in the 2010 “Inspired by Morris” show and competition.

Morris created more than 150 patterns for fabric and wallpaper; these are particularly noted for their gracefulness and detail of nature, sometimes animals and birds, mostly foliage and flowers.  His patterns have been appreciated anew in recent years.  There are numerous books available now of Morris designs for cross stitch, needlepoint, and quilts both in patchwork and applique.

Morris_and_Co_Anemone_1876, PD  Morris_Peacock_and_Dragon_Fabric_1878_v2, PD  Morris_Willow_Bough_1887, PD

Morris_Evenlode_printed_textile, PD  Morris_Honeysuckle_Fabric_1876, PD

Several fabric companies have produced Morris lines during the last 20 years.  The American, Barbara Brackman, a noted quilt historian, created a line in late 2011 called The Morris Apprentice.  Brackman’s patterns are based on designs by John Henry Dearle who became head designer and art director at Morris’ company after Morris’ death in 1896.  Rose and Hubble of London created an extensive line of Morris fabrics in the early 2000’s.  They are now out of print, but can be found.  I purchased about ten yards of various patterns on eBay a year ago.  I added several more yards to my supply from The Sewing Centre in Scarborough, England, last fall.

ml quilt blocks3

Martha’s Quilt Blocks using Morris fabrics

I am using only William Morris fabrics (OK, a bit of Dearle’s too) to make the current Barbara Brackman Block of the Week project, “Grandmother’s Choice”.  These blocks commemorate “The Fight for Women’s Rights”.  Every Saturday Barbara posts a new block pattern and well-researched historical information.  As I near the end of my year of blocks, I expect to need additional fabric for the sashing and binding – these are on my hope-to-find shopping list for the September trip to the UK.

Frederick_H._Evans_Kelmscott_Manor, PD

Photo of Kelmscott Manor Attic, 1896
Frederick H. Evans

And I am looking forward to the responses from the travelers after their Morris immersion at Kelmscott Manor.  They will be surrounded by wonderful things!  Don’t miss the attic, Gals, that’s where you’ll find the books of his drawings of patterns.  I’m not telling you about the stairs to get there!

(by Martha)

Photo Credits:  Kelmscott Manor, copyright Boerkevitz and licensed for reuse by Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license;  William Morris Gallery, copyright David Gerard and licensed for reuse by Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license;  William Morris portrait and fabric photos and Frederick Evans photo all Public Domain;  quilt blocks, Martha Liska.



  1. I am actually relieved to hear that William Morris was born into an upper class family. He was, I suspect, able to create while having his needs met by staff. Shouldn’t every artist be assigned staff at birth? (I am attempting to have an English flavored garden without staff and it’s not going well). I am looking forward to the arrival of the royal baby this week. We can see how a properly staffed infancy works! Cheers and soon time for tea.

  2. We’ll get a good look at the works of some of the Pre-Raphaelite painters on our tour. The day before we visit Kelmscott Manor, our group will visit Buscot Park where I look forward to viewing Burne-Jones’ series titled The Briar Wood and seeing paintings by other Pre-Raphaelites.

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