May Morris May 28 2019
Photograph of May Morris by Frederick Hollyer, ca. 1890. Victoria & Albert Museum, 7821-1938
As an artist, feminist, and businesswoman, I truly admire May Morris (1862–1938). Not only was she a leading artist of the Arts and Crafts movement, but she was also an author, teacher, and stylistic entrepreneur. Morris was known for her exquisite embroidery and socialist beliefs, which challenged what was expected of a woman living during the early twentieth century. Her strong opinions, seminal creativity, and unwavering leadership are inspiring. Reflecting on her life in a letter to George Bernard Shaw, she wrote: "I'm a remarkable woman, always was, though none of you seemed to think so."
At age twenty-three, she became the first woman to oversee a department at Morris and Co, the design firm established by her father William Morris. Under her leadership, embroidery became a respected fine art form. Morris was also committed to promoting women's artistic careers. She taught embroidery, published books, and established the Women's Guild of Arts in 1907.
Bed-Hangings (two curtains) by May Morris, 1916, embroidered wool on linen, 77 ½ x 27 ⅜; 76 ½ x 27 ¼ inches, Cranbrook Art Museum, 1955.402.A
Morris was influenced by English medieval and Jacobean crewel-embroidery motifs and techniques. Her embroideries were created on light colored linen with naturally dyed wool threads using stem, running, and speckling stitches. In her book Decorative Needlework (1893), Morris wrote about her favorite designs. She said they should “recall nature, not absolutely copy it; the living flower should inspire a living ornament..."
If you are inspired by May Morris’s beautifully embroidered trees, animals, and flowers; you should purchase one of our penny squares! Channel your inner May Morris on the square, by adding inspired details and stitches to create a unique statement on your craft! Happy Stitching!!
Detail of stitches from Bed-Hangings, 1916
Orange Tree by May Morris
Further Reading: Lister, Jenny, Jan Marsh, and Anna Mason. May Morris Arts and Crafts Designer. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 2017.