28th August 2019
You might have seen our new William Morris design; Strawberry Thief on our social media, but if you haven’t or you’d like a closer look, this is the blog for you! As with all of Morris’s designs, we absolutely love the stories surrounding the designs and the inspiration too. This blog will be full of photos of Strawberry Thief in blue and red and the inspiration/ story so settle in for a long scroll!
The birds were designed by Morris’s lifelong friend and colleague, Philip Webb. Webb also designed aspects of other designs including the details within Brother Rabbit.
As well as being a stunning design, it marked a triumph for Morris as it signified his perfection of his indigo-discharge technique. He achieved this at Merton Abbey. Walter 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”.
Merton Abbey was situated on the River Wandle, flowing northwards to Wandsworth. It lies in the parish of Merton in London and was where Morris moved his textile works so that they could use the water from the river. The various buildings they moved into were adapted for various aspects of his business including stained glass making, textile printing plus tapestry, fabric and carpet weaving. He didn’t want to destroy the buildings they moved into and so they were simply adapted to be fit for purpose. The water was an important part of the dye process and the river also came in useful to wash the fabrics of the dyes and tints used – many of the dye’s came from the gardens in which he grew dye plants.
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.
The Indigo- dye method was a long process; it took three days to prepare and had to be extremely accurate; it was therefore the most arduous and time consuming method to print. First the cloth was dyed all over in an indigo vat, for a uniform blue colour to be washed all over the fabric, it was then printed with a bleaching reagent- this would then reduce the colour as much as required to achieve the desired base colour. Mordants are applied onto the bleached parts and the cloth was then completely immersed in madder vat in order to give the proper tint. The excess colour is then cleaned off and, to set the fabric so it won’t run, the colours are set at boiling point by passing the fabric through soap. The cloth was then laid outside with the printed side face up so the white of the design can be purified- as you can tell, a laborious job!
“I was a great deal at Merton last week… anxiously superintending the first printing of the Strawberry thief” – William Morris
We no longer use this method as it’s really lengthy, taking days to print. However, we still print and manufacture all our products in the United Kingdom and find it incredibly important that we do, to keep the heritage of the British textile industry.
We’ve always loved the story behind Strawberry Thief 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.”
Remember that we do fabric by the half metre, so whatever your project is, big or small, you can purchase fabric to the nearest half metre. If you send us your photos to: firstname.lastname@example.org – you will receive a 20% discount code off your next order.
We hope you love our new Strawberry Thief design as much as we do. The colours and sizing took months for us to perfect and we worked hard to make sure it was utterly stunning before we launched. So all that’s left to do is to let us know which is your favourite – red or blue?