Indian influences on William Morris

William Morris was aware of the pattern designs of India and spent much time browsing the collections at the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A). Some of his pattern forms are influenced by the structure of Indian patterns including, Indian Diaper (1876), Pomegranate (1877) and Little Chintz (c.1889).

Indian Diaper William Morris

Morris wanted to perfect the traditional Indian production processes himself and worked with Thomas Wardle to achieve this goal. Wardle was already well-versed in Indian fabrics and traditional dyes made from plant materials. They set up works in Merton Abbey so Morris could experiment with the indigo discharge process (the indigo plant creates blue dye). A bleach paste is painted onto the surface to certain areas when the fabric is dipped into the indigo dye. The bleached areas are then separately dyed to create the design. His pattern The Strawberry Thief (1883) was the first success using this process. He also enjoyed using madder, a natural red dye made from roots.

Strawberry Thief William Morris

Morris also extensively used wood block printing by hand to create both fabrics and wallpaper. Although this method has been replaced in the UK, it is still widely used in India. In Morris’ time, there were machines available to print wallpaper, however, he looked down on the quality as inferior. Only wood block printing could achieve the depth of colour he wanted, but only the wealthy could afford the wallpaper as the process was labour intensive.