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Coffee with… Alison Gee from Morris & Co.

2nd September 2017
Morris & Co

Founded in 1861 by acclaimed designer William Morris, Morris & Co. produce beautiful, iconic fabric and wallpaper designs which are loved the world over. 

As custodians of the incredible Morris & Co. archive, staff continue to fulfil his legacy. They curate beautifully crafted products inspired by his original designs.

Just in time for the launch of their Archive Prints III Collection, we sat down with Head Designer, Alison Gee. She's responsible for the collections and shared the story behind the inspiring designs...

William Morris believed that everybody has the right to a beautiful house...

What can we expect from the new collections?

It is a celebration of Morris patterns, incorporating a mix of designs. There's faithful reproductions of classics, through exquisite monochromatics, to an updated digital scenic print which captures the essence of Morris’ tapestries.

 

What were you looking for when selecting designs from the archive?

We are very lucky to own within our archive, all of the original wallpaper hand blocks and corresponding match pieces. There's also the original wallpaper production log books, and a wealth of hand printed wallpaper and fabric samples.

I must say we are spoilt for choice, so at this stage, I pick the designs that I love and that I feel are relevant for today, and that offer a variety of scales that will work together as a collection.

 

What is the process from initial selection to the finished collection?

The total process for the collection takes about two years. For iconic Morris designs, great care is taken to reproduce these as authentically as possible using a colour palette that we adapted from the original log books. For new designs, such as those inspired by tiles I look for imagery that I think will work well as fabric designs, that have a charm whilst retaining the authenticity of the brand.


What classic Morris designs that haven’t been showcased before will be introduced to us in this collection?

We still have many designs in the archive drawers that we can’t wait to introduce into the range. For this collection the following patterns were chosen...

Bramble was designed by Kate Faulkner in 1879. It has an all-over pattern of blackberry briars, with berries and white flowers on a green ground. Kate was the sister of Charles Faulkner, who was one of the original partners of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co..

Snakeshead is a pattern designed by William Morris in 1876, which is the period when he was inspired by Indian prints. Three of the colourways green, indigo, and red are true to the authentic colours.

Morris Seaweed was designed by J.H.Dearle in 1901. It was one of the most popular designs he created, a free flowing pattern which captures the underwater movement of plants.

Tulip was drawn by Morris in 1875. This printed fabric is densely floriated with a repeating zigzag of wavy leaves.

We understand that this is the first Morris collection to explore ceramic Morris tile designs. How have they influenced the designs in this collection?

The original idea was to introduce simpler, monochromatic designs, which on the one hand would work well as coordinates to the previous collections, but which would hopefully also appeal to a newer customer. Morris’ ceramic tiles, proved to be the perfect inspiration for creating four new designs.

For Rosehip and Grapevine, I created the artwork by carving out the design in lino, so that the print mark has a lovely artisanal feel to it. Swans and Primrose & Columbine were painted onto an eggshell painted ground with watercolour to replicate, to a degree, the very tonal effect of painting onto a tile.

 

What are your personal collection highlights?

I love the simplicity and ease of use of the new tile inspired designs. I think that Snakeshead is a beautiful design, and I love the pictorial nature and peaceful natural imagery of The Brook. Honeysuckle and Tulip is simply stunning. I actually love every design in the collection though!

 

Who will this new collection appeal to?

Interest in the talents and ideals of William Morris has never been greater than in recent years. We think that this collection will have a wide appeal. I believe that the ceramic tile inspired designs will have appeal to a new maybe younger Morris & Co. customer. Alongside this, there are plenty of Morris & Co. classic patterns authentically reproduced that will appeal to the Morris fans. I would also hope that The Brook will capture the imagination of customers looking for a unique fabric or wallcovering.

Can you tell us more about the much anticipated collection showstopper The Brook.

Morris believed that tapestries were the highest form of textile. We had great success with ‘The Forest’ in Archive II collection, so thought it would be fun to create another. The Brook was created by using some of the imagery of the two Morris & Co. tapestries. These were the Verdure tapestries from the Holy Grail and one called The Brook by J.H Dearle.

Then, there was scanning in individual motifs of the elements in the design, and putting them into a rough layout. I worked out how the stream will flow through the design and the scales and positioning of the trees and deer.

I then traced the design onto a very large piece of primed canvas, and painted the design using gouache to give the look of the original tapestry. This hopefully recreated what Morris loved about tapestry - that you could achieve such a high level of definition and detail in this his favourite medium.

What style home is the collection most suited to, and what tips would you give on how best to incorporate it?

When styling for the shoot, we wanted to explore what the Arts and Crafts interior in 2015 might look like. The property that we chose was built within the late-Victorian/Edwardian period. It had retained the characteristics of the age. There's wood panelling, picture rails, window seats, radiators, built-in cupboards, but which had been given a pared-back classic modern feel. This gave the fabrics and wallpapers an authentic setting but with a fresher more relevant look.

I personally believe that these patterns can be used in both period and contemporary properties.

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