William Morris: Tapestry Artisan of the Arts and Crafts Movement

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William Morris is well known for being the Father of the Arts and Crafts Movement, but his contributions to the textile art of tapestry weaving is often overlooked. This a shame since he developed an amazing array of skills to achieve them. His range of talent in the décor arts was truly an amazing achievement, demonstrated by his love and devotion to tapestry design.

Morris Taught Himself How to Weave
Morris was a dedicated artist and entrepreneur. During the mid-19th century, tapestries had become lifeless, mass-produced items and emblematic of what Morris disliked about the Industrial Revolution. He rejuvenated the tapestry industry with uniqueness, creativity and character.

Morris experimented with naturally derived dyes to get the subtle shadings associated with the Arts and Crafts sensibility, seeking to replace the harshly-coloured coal-tar dyes that were developed for use by factories producing large quantities of fabrics. By the 1870’s he was dying his own wools for weaving his own textiles.

In 1879, Morris set up a loom in his bedroom and taught himself to weave with only an old French crafts manual for guidance. His first tapestry took over five hundred hours. Within a matter of months, he had completed his first tapestry design, Acanthus and Vine. His hands were constantly stained from experimenting with every form of natural dye he could find, determined as he was to tint the wool used to weave his botanical creations with the truest colors he could devise.

There are at least 150 tapestry designs created by William Morris and Morris & Co still around today.

Morris’s Patterns Today
Morris’ designs are now out of copyright, being 75 years after the death of the original designer, and are commercially available from many manufacturers of fine textiles.

In some cases, many of his original designs, like his tapestry The Tree of Life, have been in continuous production for the last 130 years. This speaks to their longevity and evergreen appeal to lovers of fine design. The collections are just as appropriate to today’s restoration or construction of Arts & Crafts style homes in North America, not to mention the more recent trends toward mid-century design.

Tapestries are making somewhat of a resurgence in design right now as 2018 heads into a period that values natural tones, textures, and comfort. A tapestry may be the finishing touch to your room, or a beautiful centerpiece to set its tone. A quick online search will show dozens of retailers that still produce Morris’ designs at a reasonable cost.

As Morris himself once said:

You may hang your walls with tapestry instead of whitewash or paper; or you may cover them with mosaic; or have them frescoed by a great painter: all this is not luxury, if it be done for beauty’s sake, and not for show: it does not break our golden rule: Have nothing in your houses which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.
 –W. Morris, 1880