May Morris* (1862-1938)

*The younger of William Morris’s two daughters by his wife, the pre-Raphaelite model Jane Burden.

In 1907 alongside Mary Elizabeth Turner, May set up the Women’s Guild of Art, as at this time the Art Workers’ Guild did not admit women. She continued to teach embroidery across the country from the Royal School of Art Needlework and LCC Central School of Art, to Birmingham, Leicester and Hammersmith.

Nicola Davison reviewed the exhibition May Morris: Art & Life** for the Financial Times, on November 10, 2017:

“…When she was 23, May was put in charge of Morris & Co’s embroidery department. Embroidery was a family pursuit; William had taught himself when he was young, and both Jane Morris and May’s aunt Bessie Burden were experts (embroiderers today still wrestle with the Burden stitch). While most middle-class women of the time undertook “Berlin wool work”, a crude style of stitching with coarse yarn, the Morris women embroidered with silk and gold thread on damask in the richly figurative opus anglicanum style that had flourished in the medieval English church.

Customers could select from a range of embroidery designs in an illustrated catalogue, either buying the pattern to make at home or the completed work. Items for sale included cloths, bedcovers, door hangings, firescreens, cushions and pieces for churches, such as altar cloths and lectern covers. May managed a team of needlewomen, liaised with aristocratic clients and oversaw production. Like her father, she was exacting. In a note about a fire screen, she recommends, “a purple very dusky and dead in tone and a yellow clear and fresh”. Buttery yellow and warm purple, meanwhile, made “the most ingeniously hideous admixture of colour possible to imagine”…”.

**The exhibition is at Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh, until March 14th, 2020.

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