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William Morris; The Kelmscott Press

16th October 2020

If you’ve read about William Morris, you’ll know he was hugely talented and passionate about a number of things. Did you know this included setting up the Kelmscott Press. From 1890-1896, he mastered the skill of fine hand printing. Our friends at the wonderful William Morris Society sent us these lovely photos to share with you.

A return to traditional craftsmanship

In 1888, Morris attended a lecture on printing by his neighbour, Emery Walker. Mass produced, badly made and unsightly, his vision was a return to traditional craftsmanship. The books, as shown in the photos, now remain a wonderful representation of the Art and Crafts aesthetic typical for Morris.

You can see the fine detail within the books – not just ordinary passages of text. Instead, intricate, beautiful Morris designs. In total, the Kelmscott Press printed three books. According to Helen Dore, an authority on Morris, this equalled 18,234 volumes.

With Morris, this new venture was very much how his love for architecture began – pushing back on the new ways of manufacturing. At the time of the Victorian industrial revolution, Morris wanted to keep and celebrate traditional craftsmanship. Morris was a lifelong lover of medieval manuscripts, with the craft of hand printing declining. By his death, he’d collected over 1000 books of their earliest print. These all lived in the library of his home, Kelmscott.

Reviving a traditional craft

Just like his other passion projects, the Kelmscott Press was created to perfection. “The aim of the Press was to revive the allied art crafts of type-designing, fine printing and book production, producing hand-printed limited editions on handmade paper. William Bowden and his son were employed as compositors.” (Helen Dore, William Morris, 1990)

Morris aimed to revive the craft of printing which had become less popular due to commercial degradation. “As with the other decorative arts, he was not content just to design beautiful books, but went to considerable lengths to familiarise himself with all the materials and processes involved- the paper, ink, and the cutting and making of the type.” (Helen Dore, William Morris, 1990)

William Morris Type Fonts

Because he already knew about block printing from his time printing designs in Merton Abbey and also his talent at calligraphy. Therefore could design type fonts; “Chaucer,” “Golden” and “Troy.” Inspired by 15th Century type with all three fonts, he designed all three. Then, he continued to study them to understand the difficulties of using intricate lettering.

The Nature of Gothic and News from Nowhere

The images of Nature of Gothic and News from Nowhere show how detailed and beautiful the texts are. Definitely not just your average book. As you can see, each page is a work of art. He made over 600 designs for these borders, title pages and inscriptions in the last years of his life. His work, as always, was an impeccable example of artistry. Using pure linen rags instead of paper to model it on 15th Century Bolognese paper.

Each page printed for the Kelmscott Press (printed by Joseph Batchelor) had a watermark, designed by Morris. “His authoritative Arts and Crafts essay on printing gives a survey of its early history and his own views on the principles of good typography, emphasising the importance of legibility; well laid-out pages (stressing that the double, not the single, page should always be considered the unity), with margins in due proportion to the type area. Although Morris excelled at decorative borders and initials, he also felt that books could be most beautiful in terms of typography alone, without any other ornament.” (Helen Dore, William Morris, 1990)

Thank you to the William Morris Society for sending us these photos! Referenced throughout was Helen Dore.

Keep up to date with what we’re doing on our Instagram!

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🌷 William Morris month day 30 🌷 As we come near the end of Morris month, we’re celebrating with a fabric stack, full of beautiful licensed designs, which is your fave? 🌿 “Remember that a pattern is either right or wrong. It cannot be forgiven for blundering, as a picture may be which has otherwise great qualities in it. It is with a pattern as with a fortress, it is no stronger than its weakest point.”- William Morris 🤍 
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🐭 William Morris month day 29 🐭 We’ve been loving William Morris month to celebrate Morris’s birthday month, spreading his floral magic by posting everyday - have you discovered a new favourite design of his this month? 🌿 We absolutely love these little mice and the banner by @mini_and_bob - aren’t they so lovely! 🐭🤍
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🌷 William Morris Month Day 26 🌷 Absolutely loving a spring time floral on the table right now, especially when paired with an Easter craft or two! 🤍
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🌿 William Morris Month Day 25 🌿 Florals on florals on florals; all of the William Morris florals just look so beautiful together and, as Morris said himself, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful” 🌷
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🐥 William Morris Month Day 23 🐥 Loving the sunshine this week for springtime 🌿 We absolutely love Willow Bough on the table in the sunshine paired with spring blooms 🌷
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🌷 William Morris Month Day 22🌷 A themed table is always our favourite, we’ve been loving setting the table lately with an Easter theme- especially when it means we can eat the eggs after! 🐣✨ 
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🌿 William Morris Day 20 🌿 William Morris fact of the day; did you know he founded the Kelmscott Press? 🖋️ He wrote of the venture – “Here is a new craft to conquer and to perfect.” Printing began at the press in Spring 1891 🪴 He designed multiple fonts including “Golden” Roman typeface and “Troy” Gothic type along with “Chaucer” and he worked to create beautiful books in regards to their designs which took into account their type, image and decorative elements – you can see beautiful examples of what he achieved today if you do a quick search on the Kelmscott Press- it’s well worth a Google! 🌷
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#williammorris #williammorrisfabric #preraphaelite #preraphaelites #kelmscottpress #morris #williammorrismonth #williammorrisdesign #victorian #victorianart #victorians
🌷 William Morris Month Day 19🌷 Happy first day of spring everyone! 🪴 We celebrated in our favourite way; coffee and cake of course! 🍰 Now we love florals all year round of course, but especially love adding in even more this time of year to reflect the blooms in the garden 🌷 What’s your favourite Morris design this time of year? 🌿
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📝 William Morris Month Day 18 📝 Did you know that as well as being an incredible designer, William Morris was also a brilliant writer and poet; have you read any of his writing? What’s your favourite quote? 🌷🌿
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🐰 William Morris Month Day 16 🐰 A Sunday spent Easter decorating, these cute little bunnies were a craft a few years back and they are always a firm favourite to bring out this time of year to hang on our Easter tree 🐥 Have you started decorating or eating eggs yet? 🐣
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🍓 William Morris Month Day 15 🍓 Absolutely can’t wait for the summer months to get our Strawberry Thief picnic basket and blanket back out- if you missed this craft we have a DIY on our website blog, along with a lot of other craft ideas and how-to blogs ☺️
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