When the William Morris Society invited Fine Cell Work to visit their archive at the Society premises in Hammersmith, we jumped at the chance to be involved with such an iconic name and timeless designs. There is a strong affinity between FCW and William Morris, particularly around his belief about the recognition of workers and their craft.
The Society gave us an introductory tour of the premises and a private view of some of the original pencil sketches and watercolours held in their vast archive.
As so many designs by William Morris are still widely used in interiors across the world, we were curious to see what surprises the archive might hold. We had been promised access to some designs which had not seen the light of day for more than 100 years and the possibility of exclusive use of some of these designs to provide meaningful work for you, our stitchers.
We were presented with six huge folders of heavy, high-quality paper. Each design was separated from the next with leaves of acid free tissue paper and one page was turned to the next with the upmost care, using clean cotton gloves to ensure our fingerprints didn’t damage the fragile paper.
The treasured designs were thrilling. From one folder to the next, exquisite watercolours - some complete, some fragments - the colours as vivid as the day they were painted as they have been so well preserved by the team at the William Morris Society. Some of the drawings are thought to be originals by William Morris himself, others by his daughter Mae.
We initially photographed a selection of a dozen designs and went away to enlarge them and work on them using specialist software to see what translated as a print onto fabric. We chose three designs to sample and sent them out to be digitally printed onto pure linen. By using this digital print we were able to faithfully reproduce the exact colours of the original paintings and we could even see the brush strokes and water marks made by the hands of William Morris and his assistants as they created the designs.
Once the designs had been printed, our commission stitch specialist worked on the stitched design. We cut all the threads and drew up instructions before sending the first samples into prison to be stitched. It was wonderful to see how the designs were enhanced when they were embellished with hand-embroidery in stranded cotton.
The stitching took somewhere between 4-6 weeks and was undertaken by some of our most expert embroiderers. Thank you to those of you who took such care in producing these pieces. The embroidery added texture and depth of colour to make what were already beautiful designs even more stunning.
We then had the embroidered fronts made up as finished cushions with terracotta linen piping and a blush rose, pure cotton velvet back, complete with a feather pad. We have also produced some purses and sunglasses cases using the print and these are manufactured by our apprentices in our London-based Hub.