May Morris (1862–1938) has finally emerged from the long shadow cast by her father William with the release of a new Morris & Co collection inspired by her designs. No mere needleworker, May, a fervent socialist, also designed pieces of jewellery, was painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and elevated embroidery to an art form. As she once told playwright George Bernard Shaw (with whom she was romantically involved): ‘I’m a remarkable woman – always was, though none of you seemed to think so.’
Style Library, custodian of the Morris & Co archive, does think so, however, and its ‘Mesletter’ range of seven embroideries, seven prints and ten wallpapers does much to restore May’s reputation. A reworking and updating of her designs to suit the contemporary home, it has the stylised flowers and birds characteristic of Arts & Crafts style, but with the detailed richness of embroidery, and a modern colour palette.
May learnt her craft from her mother and aunt, revealing a talent that led to her overseeing embroidery at Morris & Co aged just 23. Her loose, organic designs were entirely ahead of their time, and offered a contrast to the repeat patterns of the day.
The ‘Mesletter’ collection, named after the house in Orkney that housed her hangings, is a fitting tribute to May and to the other talented female needleworkers who stitched alongside her. Some designs are faithful copies of the original documents from the archive, others are interpretations and some are entirely new but reference her style.
According to Rebecca Craig, head of design at Morris & Co, the new collection is a true celebration of ‘May’s commitment to her own creative vision and to her father’s ideals’. Not only does it validate her contribution to the Morris & Co brand and to the wider Arts & Crafts movement in general, but it finally offers us the chance to decorate our homes with the beautiful work of this once-forgotten star. stylelibrary.com
This article first appeared in August 2019 issue of ELLE Decoration
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