William Morris Strawberry Thief – The Design, Story and Indigo Dye Technique

6th March 2018

Whenever we think too much time has passed without talking about one of our licensed William Morris designs, we hop to it to make sure we can discuss it!

Our Strawberry Thief design is one of our all time favourite William Morris designs and perhaps his most famous. The birds within the designs stand out against the flowers within the design. The design was first produced in 1883, designed by Morris and the birds were drawn by his close friend, architect Philip Webb.

We’ve always loved the story behind the design and the insight to Morris’ personality that it shows. The inspiration came about as Morris sat and watched the birds steal his strawberries from under the fruit nets at his home, Kelmscott Manor. The thrushes swooped in to steal the fruit – according to his daughter May, it was quite a sight to behold, “You can imagine my Father going out in the early morning and watching the rascally thrushes at work on the fruit beds and telling the fanned who growls ‘I’d like to wring their necks!’ that no bird in the garden must be touched. There were certainly more birds than strawberries in spite of attempts at protection. And the walls of the little dining-room are hung with this note of the June garden and the little lords of it.”

As well as being a beautiful and timeless design, it marked a triumph for Morris as it signified the perfecting of his indigo-discharge technique of printing at Merton Abbey. Waiter Crane tells a friend of popping into see Morris at Merton Abbey and asking for him, he recalled, “hearing a strong cheery voice call out: ‘I’m dyeing, I’m dyeing, I’m dyeing!”’ When he was experimenting with his dye technique, Henderson recalled Morris’, “hands and arms up to the elbow remained permanently blue”.

Morris chose to produce his own prints due to his love of traditional print and drive to avoid the industrialisation that was occurring. He used hand blocks (which had mainly disappeared in Great Britain by 1840.) He uses mordants and discharge techniques – a mordant is a metallic compound which is used in dyeing that combines with the dye to fix the colouring matter and the discharge is the removal of the colour by chemical means.

Whilst we no longer use his indigo dye technique, we still print and manufacture all our products here in the UK! Have a look at our top Strawberry Thief products – we print them in both red and blue and make sure to take a look at the whole range!