Designing an Earthly Paradise

What was the inspiration for The Strawberry Thief? From a kitchen window at Kelmscott Manor William Morris saw his strawberry patch being raided by thrushes. His outraged gardener asked permission to get rid of the birds but Morris refused and chose to repay them for the inspiration with the strawberries.

How was the design produced? Morris continually experimented, reviving lost techniques and blending them with new technology. For the Strawberry Thief, Morris used a discharge method where the fabric was dipped in an indigo vat, the area for the design was stripped with chemicals then dyed with alizarin red and weld yellow.

How successful was the design? Launched in 1883, The Strawberry Thief was a complicated and expensive design that nevertheless became a bestseller for Morris & Co and remains in production today. 

The exhibition William Morris: Designing an Earthly Paradise at The Cleveland Museum of Art showcases not only woven and block-printed textiles spanning each stage of Morris’s vibrant career but an embroidery by William Morris’s daughter, May as well as a near-complete collection of volumes printed by Kelmscott Press.

'Morris’s meticulously designed books were his final labor of love; indeed, they exhibit the same delight in organic forms and time-tested craftsmanship visible in his textiles. The voices of May Morris, Kate Faulkner, Walter Crane, and Edward Burne-Jones also feature among the projects that Morris so passionately brought to fruition. With Morris & Co. wallpaper and carpet reproductions, the exhibition Designing an Earthly Paradise brings to life Morris’s striking, revolutionary designs.' 

From 29th September to 13 March 2019

This post is in part an extract from the Britannia issue of Selvedge.

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  • Janet Goring on

    Strawberry Thief was at least 6 years in the making. It was only once Morris established his Merton print works that he perfected the print process. The success has been attributed at least locally to the water from the Wandle.

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