The Soul and Essence of Embroidery…

Small bag by May Morris in William Morris Gallery

Small bag by May Morris in William Morris Gallery

I went to the William Morris Gallery in Wathamstow recently for an exhibition by Nicola Jarvis called ‘The Art of Embroidery’ – works on paper and textiles created in dialogue with the techniques and ideas championed by William Morris’s daughter, May Morris.  I have to say that my favourite bits of the exhibition were the designs and embroidery by May Morris exhibited alongside the modern work. There seems to be limited information out there about her – perhaps I am just looking in the wrong places – but from what I can find it seems that she was a worthy successor to her father, as Director of the Morris embroidery department, with her own work which has an amazing degree of skill and delicacy of shading, and in her promotion of women’s craft work with the founding of the Women’s Guild of Arts in 1907 (as the Art Workers Guild did not admit women.)  I particularly liked this quote:

‘While inferior work can be tolerated for the sake of the design, if that is good….excellent work on a worthless design must be cast aside as labour lost; so that, you see, design is the very soul and essence of beautiful embroidery.’
May Morris 1893
I still have a lot to learn but I am really interested in how to create a design in stitch, so maybe even someone as slapdash as me can become an interesting embroiderer…..!

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William Morris Gallery

A couple of weeks ago the Scotsman and I paid a visit to the newly refurbished William Morris Gallery with some friends. 

I’ve lived in the vicinity of Walthamstow for the past twenty-five years and never gone there before, but was inspired to go by seeing some of the tapestries and embroideries currently on show in the Tate’s Pre Raphaelite Exhibition

I wish there had been a bit more about the textile work although it was interesting to read about their remarkably modern ideas when it came to marketing their goods.  For instance you could buy a handmade embroidery from their workshop or if you couldn’t afford that you could buy the ‘kit’ and embroider it yourself. 

Anyway, the combination of both exhibtions has left me wanting to find out more about May Morris (William’s daughter) who seems to have taken after her father both in an artistic and political sense….

I particularly liked this William Morris quote:  “If a chap can’t compose an epic poem while he’s weaving a tapestry, he had better shut up, he’ll never do any good at all.”  Top bloke!!