Monday, July 22, 2013

Modern Print Monday: William Morris

Strawberry Thief by William Morris, 1883
The original was a woven tapestry.

William Morris

It's hard to see principles of modernism in this complex design, here in printed cotton for my Moda collection A Morris Tapestry. Morris certainly ignored the idea of minimalism in his many layers of pattern. His abstractions seem not too abstract to us, rendered in detail. He used shading to give the illusion of depth.

Yet, many art historians consider Morris's 1860's work as the advent of design's modern era. He began with ideas of abstraction and flat color that others continued to push over the next fifty years. He deliberately set out to flatten design, to reduce the three-dimensional illusion that was the standard for mid-Victorian wallpaper and furniture. 

He also changed the scale. Here a reproduction print on a contemporary piece of furniture shows the relative size of many of his prints.

Morris was a forerunner of modernism in many ways, but he was also the antithesis of modernism---a revival artist. His pattern and techniques looked back to medieval tapestry design. His colors were derived from natural dyes like indigo and madder, rather than the new technology of his own era. He believed in the hand made and the crafts workshop rather than the factory and industrial production.

Modern/Not Modern.

See some Morris modernized by Emilia Haglund for a design project here:


  1. I fell in love with the Strawberry Thief after I saw it among your Morris line. First I searched for it locally with no luck then I did a massive internet search. I finally found it in a fabric store located in a fabric shop in Barksdale, Texas. That town is truly tiny and happens to be my dad's hometown. I couldn't believe it. I beame the happy owner of 5 yards of my favorite with the black background. Woo- Hoo!

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