Arriving in Bradford in 1932 to study power weaving, Swiss-born Marianne Straub (1909-1994) was to become one of Britain’s most influential designer/weavers. The Gordon Russell Design Museum’s talk, Marianne Straub RDI: A Designer's Designer — an online talk by Mary Schoeser, is a chance to glimpse the creative output of a handweaver committed to well-made mass-produced textiles. Her biographer, Mary Schoeser, will introduce a range of her work, including the cloths she designed for Gordon Russell Ltd. Read on for Mary’s ‘fac file’ written about Straub for Issue 22 Paper.
Marianne Straub's life-long interest in textiles developed during a childhood spent in a tubercular ward. Confined from the age of three to eight, with little else to occupy her, she developed an acute memory for pattern, texture and colour. At 15 she decided to study textiles and, after boarding-school in Celerina, in 1928 she entered the Zürich Kunstgewerbeschule.
Committed to designing affordable cloth, Straub sought power-loom training but discovered both Swiss textile colleges barred women. While working as an assistant in Maurer's Weberei, a domestic textiles mill she came to hear of Bradford Technical College. She was admitted, as ‘Mr Straub’, in 1932. She was the only woman attending at the time, and the third in the history of the college.
It was at Bradford that Straub displayed her talent for cloth construction and visualisation of fabrics in situ. She took these skills to Gospels, Ethel Mairet's hand-weaving studio-workshop in Sussex, where she was introduced to spinning, natural dyeing and the English Arts and Crafts tradition. In return she developed fabrics for Gospels and 25 years after Mairet's death in 1952 arranged the transfer of Gospels' contents to the Crafts Study Centre, Farnham where they became a founding collection. Straub was a trustee until 1992.
Image: Set of furnishing fabrics 'Totley' of dobby-woven rayon, designed by Marianne Straub for Helios Limited, Lancashire, 1947
She believed that standards in industry could be raised by the use of hand woven prototypes and demonstrated her ideas as the peripatetic designer for the 72 Welsh woollen mills supported by the Rural Industries Bureau; as the head designer and managing director of Helios and as a designer for Warner & Sons Ltd. Straub's Helios ranges were amongst the first reasonably priced avant-garde retail fabrics. Her manipulation of warp spacing and weave structures fed the mid century appetite for understated tone-and-texture fabrics. Too numerous to recount are the ships, planes, trains, collegiate and government buildings that contained her cloths; their ubiquity is epitomised by a woollen moquette designed in 1964 which was still in use in some London tubes and buses in 2000 (see Selvedge Issue 19).
image: Moquette textile in Piccadilly carriage opened by Her Majesty the Queen. Photographed by London Transport, 16 December 1977.
Straub's exacting standards, readiness to experiment and enduring fascination with textiles made her sought after as a lecturer. She taught at the Royal College of Art and visited numerous colleges. She was admired for her humour, energy and apparent disregard for her tuberculosis-withered right leg – a lifelong disability that gave her small frame an ungainly gait but never stopped her either travelling widely or getting under a loom to put it right. She was sustained by her belief that “we all have to give, and we must give, and we must help each other”. In 1992 Straub retired to Berlingen, Switzerland, where she died in 2004. She is credited with 'over fifty years of nourishing, even battling for, the integrity of cloth and the creativity of those who wish to make it well'.
Written by Mary Schoeser for Issue 22 Paper.
Mary Schoeser MA FSA is a freelance historian who has written extensively on the history of textiles. She has worked as a consultant archivist to numerous organisations, as well as on restoration, curatorial and research projects. She is President of the Textile Society and Patron of the School of Textiles, Coggeshall.
Book tickets for the Gordon Russell Design Museum’s talk, Marianne Straub RDI: A Designer's Designer - an online talk by Mary Schoeser here.
The talk takes place on 24 September 2021, 6pm.