Thursday, June 14, 2012

May Morris Needlework

Henry James, whilst visiting Morris, commented on May’s helpful assistance with her Father’s needlework when she was just seven years old. She went on to study at the South Kensington School of Design. May inherited her Father’s talent and when she was just 23 years of age, she took over the embroidery department of Morris and Company. From now on, until Morris’s death, the importance of the embroidery section grew under May’s supervision. May herself produced many of the new designs which, although influenced by her Father, have a noticeable difference and distinct quality. May’s embroideries are particularly noted for their richness, colour and beauty of design.

In 1893 May published Decorative Needlework, written as a beginners guide to embroidery, complete with illustrations. She also designed the cover of the book. Many articles followed and May began lecturing at the Central School of Art in Birmingham, culminating in a lecture tour of America. May founded the Women’s Guild of Arts in 1907 and remained Chairman until her death. May was aware of the declining reputation of embroidery which, by the nineteenth century had come to be regarded as a minor art. This had been caused as a result of the popularity of Berlin wool work, which imitated Old Master paintings, and due to the lack of thought put into appropriate materials. May played a key role in elevating the status of embroidery through her teaching and writing. She advocated the use of suitable materials and highlighted the importance of a well-constructed design.

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