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Strawberry Thief

  • Object:

    Curtain

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (made)
    Merton Abbey (printed)

  • Date:

    1883 (designed)
    1918-1940 (retailed)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Morris, William, born 1834 - died 1896 (designer)
    Morris & Co. (retailer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Cotton discharge and block printed

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Lettice Rathbone

  • Museum number:

    T.166A-1973

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This printed cotton furnishing textile was intended to be used for curtains or draped around walls (a form of interior decoration advocated by William Morris), or for loose covers on furniture. This is one of Morris best-known designs. He based the pattern and name on the thrushes which frequently stole the strawberries in the kitchen garden of his countryside home, Kelmscott Manor, in Oxfordshire. Despite the fact that this design was one of the most expensive printed furnishings available from Morris & Co., it became a firm favourite with clients.

The pattern was printed by the indigo discharge method, an ancient technique used for many centuries mostly in the East. Morris admired the depth of colour and crispness of detail that it produced. He first attempted to print by this method in 1875 but it was until 1881, when he moved into his factory at Merton Abbey, near Wimbledon, that he succeeded.

In May 1883 Morris wrote to his daughter, 'I was a great deal at Merton last week ... anxiously superintending the first printing of the Strawberry thief, which I think we shall manage this time.' Pleased with this success, he registered the design with the Patents Office. This pattern was the first design using the technique in which red (in this case alizarin dye) and yellow (weld) were added to the basic blue and white ground.

Physical description

Curtain of white cotton, first dyed with indigo, then discharge printed and then wood block printed. The last print shows a turnover repeat of two types of thrush like birds perched in pairs amidst foliate and floral stems. One pair of confronted birds 'warble' whilst the other pair are about to break off two ripe strawberries. It has a dark indigo ground with the repeat in half- indigo, red, brown, yellow, green, pink and white.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (made)
Merton Abbey (printed)

Date

1883 (designed)
1918-1940 (retailed)

Artist/maker

Morris, William, born 1834 - died 1896 (designer)
Morris & Co. (retailer)

Materials and Techniques

Cotton discharge and block printed

Marks and inscriptions

'Morris & Co, 17 George Street, Hanover Square'
Cream and black silk woven label

Dimensions

Length: 47 in, Width: 32.5 in, Width: 23.5 in top, Length: 119.5 cm, Width: 82.5 cm, Width: 59.8 cm top, Weight: 0.48 kg

Descriptive line

Curtain of printed cotton 'Strawberry Thief', designed by William Morris, 1883, printed at Merton Abbey, and retailed by Morris & Co., Great Britain, 1918-1940.

Production Note

Morris & Co label with address at 17 George Street, Hanover Square, indicates that the curtains were lined and made up by the company after the showrooms were established in Hanover Square in 1918.

Materials

Cotton

Techniques

Block printing; Discharge printing

Categories

Textiles; Interiors; Wall coverings

Collection

Textiles and Fashion Collection

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