A Look at William Morris

He was ultra-modern, not merely up-to-date, but far ahead of it; his wall papers, his hangings, his tapestries and his printed books have twentieth century in every touch of them” George Bernard Shaw (Abrams, 2003)

William Morris (1834-1896) was a British textile designer, poet, novelist, social activist and translator. He developed a close relationship with the Pre Raphelite Brotherhood and became a forerunner of the Arts and Crafts movement. Morris was a strong advocate of the links between utility and art, he emphasized that design and production should not be separate from one another, the designer should be the maker;

Men whose hands were skilled in fashioning things could not help thinking the while and soon found out that their deft fingers could express some part of the tangle of their thoughts, and that this new pleasure hindered not their daily work, for in their very labour that they lived by lay the material in which their thought could be embodied; and this though they laboured, they laboured somewhat for these pleasure. (Morris, 2001)

Rooted in his social belief that art should not be a practice exclusive to the upper class, Morris emphasized the importance of the craftsman in the design and production of artworks. As in his literature, Morris often relates to a Medieval themes in his analysis of the designer/maker.

Morris further brings through the influence of the Medieval in his designs, many of his textile prints and weaves demonstrate a pastoral identity which show a development of Medieval styles.

In 1881, Morris acquired the Merton Abbey land and outhouses which were modified to become a mill and workhouse for Morris & Co. It was here that Morris was able to experiment with printed textiles and he produced Jasmine Trail;

(allposters.com, 2014)


and Tulip & Willow

Furnishing fabric - Tulip and Willow(Collections.vam.ac.uk, 2014)


Both of these early printed fabrics showcase beautifully the block printing technique that Morris is famed for.

Morris also created woven fabrics such as Peacock and Dragon

Detail of Peacock and Dragon(William-morris.co.uk, 2014)


This is one of my favourite Morris designs, I love the shade of blue used here and the clever interplay of the peacock and dragon motifs. Again, the block design is evident and the richness of the colour and design create depth and interest.

I identify with Morris’s ideal that the designer and maker should not be separated. for me, the act of creating one of my own designs is just as satisfying, If not more so, than the act of designing it in the first place. While many of his designs are not to my personal tastes, I can fully appreciate the innovation, intricacy and talent in the design and production.

And one of these strange choosing cloths was blue,

Wavy and long, and one was cut short and red;

No man could tell the better of the two.  (Morris 1850, quoted in Abrams 2003)


Abrams, M. (2003). Norton anthology of english lit v 2 7th & cdrom. W. W. Norton & Company.

allposters.com, (2014). Jasmine Trail Curtain Design, 1868-70 (Printed Cotton) Giclee Print by William Morris at AllPosters.com. [online] Available at: http://www.allposters.com/-sp/Jasmine-Trail-Curtain-Design-1868-70-Printed-Cotton-Posters_i9043240_.htm [Accessed 19 Dec. 2014].

Collections.vam.ac.uk, (2014). Tulip and Willow | William Morris | V&A Search the Collections. [online] Available at: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O78104/tulip-and-willow-furnishing-fabric-william-morris/ [Accessed 19 Dec. 2014].

Marxists.org, (2014). William Morris – The Arts and Crafts of To-day. [online] Available at: https://www.marxists.org/archive/morris/works/1889/today.htm [Accessed 18 Dec. 2014].

Morris, W. (2001). The Lesser Arts of Life. London: Electric Book Co.

Vam.ac.uk, (2014). Biography of William Morris – Victoria and Albert Museum. [online] Available at: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/b/biography-of-william-morris/ [Accessed 17 Dec. 2014].

Weinroth, M. (2008). William Morris’s Philosophy of Art. Canadian Aethetics, 15(1496-3140).

William-morris.co.uk, (2014). The Original Morris & Co – Arts and crafts, fabrics and wallpaper designs by William Morris & Company | A Full History | British/UK Fabrics and Wallpapers. [online] Available at: https://www.william-morris.co.uk/a-full-history/ [Accessed 18 Dec. 2014].

Wmgallery.org.uk, (2014). Collection | Themes | Peacock and Dragon | William Morris Gallery. [online] Available at: http://www.wmgallery.org.uk/collection/themes/william-morris/object/peacock-and-dragon-f26e-designed-1878 [Accessed 19 Dec. 2014].


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