Strawberry Thief thumbnail 1
Strawberry Thief thumbnail 2
Not currently on display at the V&A

Strawberry Thief

Printing Block
1883 (made)
Place Of Origin

Printing block.

object details
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
carved wood
Brief Description
Printing block, 'Strawberry Thief', designed by William Morris, England, 1883
Physical Description
Printing block.
  • Weight: 1.88kg
Credit line
Given by Stead McAlpin & Co.
Object history
Acquired by the museum in 1980 from Stead and McAlpin & Co. Ltd.

Stead and McAlpin acquired these from Morris & Co. in 1940, along with the full range of Morris & Co. print blocks for textile designs. Stead and McAlpin produced Morris & Co. printed textiles for various companies including Liberty, Cavendish Textiles and the John Lewis Partnership, by whom Stead & McAlpin were eventually taken over by.

It is difficult to date the individual blocks precisely, but it appears that parts T.125:F&G-1980 (dark blue) and T.125:P to S-1980 (light blue) were cut post 1940 by Stead & McAlpin, to change the blue printing technique from indigo discharge to surface printing.

T.15: to C-1981 are the blocks used by Morris & Co. for indigo discharge printing. During this process, the whole cloth is dipped in a vat of indigo dye, then washed and left to dry. Solvent-coated print blocks would then be used to pick out sections of both light blue, and other colours, from the dark blue cloth. A half solution of solvent is used for light blue/ green, full strength for red and yellow (to make the section completely white first)

Morris’s preferred technique for printing red was to print mordant onto the cloth in the right places, then dip it completely in a vat of madder. The madder would only fix to the cloth in areas with mordant- the rest would wash out. The process would then be repeated with weld (yellow). This was a lengthy process of several days. It is probable that the firm quickly switched over to surface printing the madder and weld directly onto the cloth- in that order- using the same blocks.

T.125 to E-1980 are the blocks for printing madder

T.125:L-O-1980 are the blocks for printing weld

T.125: H-K- 1980 need more research to establish their role in the print process- they appear to surface print the brown sections of the design, but the dye/ colour used hasn’t been established. These are likely to be Morris & Co. originals but the possibility of them being post 1940 shouldn’t be ruled out.

The original blocks were cut in pear wood in 1883. Because this is a soft wood these will have been replaced by Morris & Co. as they wore out. Precise dating of the individual blocks is hard, but it is likely that those with metal parts are more recent.
Accession Number

About this object record

Explore the Collections contains over a million catalogue records, and over half a million images. It is a working database that includes information compiled over the life of the museum. Some of our records may contain offensive and discriminatory language, or reflect outdated ideas, practice and analysis. We are committed to addressing these issues, and to review and update our records accordingly.

You can write to us to suggest improvements to the record.

Suggest Feedback

record createdSeptember 7, 2018
Record URL