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The Arts and Crafts

Strawberry Theif Wallpaper from Morris & Co.

There has been a renaissance in using traditional crafting methods to make pieces ethically and sustainably here in Britain. This longing for heritage craft was sparked by the Arts and Crafts movement of the mid-19th century and arguably still lives on today.

The Arts and Crafts movement grew out of a disdain for industrialised society. There was a feeling that factory manufacturing lowered the quality of not only the pieces that were being made but also how workers were being treated in these factory conditions. There was a longing for craftsmanship and traditional making methods from a time before the Industrial Revolution.

Due to the conditions of how the pieces were made, the decorative arts, at this time, had a reputation of being low-status and so the movement began to challenge and change these perceptions.

Printed season ticket, Walter Crane, 1890, England. Museum no. E.4164-1915. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

According to the V&A, the Movement took its name from the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, a London group founded in 1887 although the ideals behind the movement were felt long before then. The group held its first annual exhibition in 1888 showcasing examples of textiles, pottery, furniture and metalwork in order to raise the public perception of the decorative arts. For a time, these exhibitions were the only place where decorative arts could be displayed to garner attention from the public in order for them to question the way these pieces are made.

Stained glass window in Hill House, Helensborough - Image from Tony Hisgett on Flickr

The movement was spread across the British Isles. In Scotland, it started with the stained glass revival as well as the development of the Glasgow Style made popular in architecture, interior design and painting with influential leaders such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow School of Art. Revival in architecture and stained glass was also popular in Ireland. Wales still had a strong craft tradition and the Arts and Crafts Movement became more of a revivalist campaign with pottery being emphasised at the time.

The teachings behind the movement were based on the works of art critic John Ruskin, Gothic Revival architect Augustus Pugin and later inspired and adopted by designer William Morris. They focused on the combining of social and design reform, favouring traditional crafting of the Middle Ages over industrial manufacturing. There was a fear in a loss of these traditional skills and the troubling effect the factory model of working had on its workers and objects.

'Strawberry Thief' by William Morris 1883. Museum no. T.586-1919, © V&A Museum, London

William Morris was a main figure behind the movement in the late 19th century, being influenced by the teachings of Ruskin and Pugin. These teachings focused on creating a healthier society that focused on free, independent craftspeople who designed and made their own pieces by hand. Of course, with the developments in industrial machinery, Morris was not completely opposed to the use of machinery altogether as others in the movement were but rather preferred that craftspeople had more involvement in the design of the pieces they were making.

“These teachings focused on creating a healthier society that focused on free, independent craftspeople who designed and made their own pieces by hand.”

Morris himself became more involved in the creation of his textile and wallpaper designs, establishing furnishing and decorative arts company Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co with six other partners in 1861. The company adopted Ruskin’s ideas of reforming attitudes towards British production, focusing on an ethos of affordable luxury. In 1875, Morris bought out his partners and the company became known as Morris & Co, whose archive designs were bought over by another renowned furnishing house Sanderson & Sons in 1940 and have remained a part of ever since.

'Wandle' textile design by William Morris at Morris & Co 1884

Morris rejected chemical dyes and emphasised the revitalisation of organic dyes. This process is still being used today by a multitude of AUTHOR British based makers. Wax Atelier who create stunning candles and waxed linen wraps in London use natural ingredients to dye their pieces such as green tea and plant roots. Furniture maker, Jan Lennon, also uses natural dyes to create an ebonised oak finish for her Arda Bar Light in her workshop in Somerset. These makers are also involved with the creation of their pieces from initial design all the way through to the beautifully made, finished piece.

This concentration on continuing traditional crafting methods is still happening today. Many of our AUTHOR makers use ancient techniques such as lost wax bronze casting and steam bending wood. Producing their pieces here in Britain to a high quality also highlights the importance of paying makers fairly for their craft and how it is more ethical and sustainable than mass manufacturing.

Celebration Candles by Wax Atelier dyed with green tea

Small batch and made to order production allow us to think about the piece being made and how its creation can be socially and environmentally responsible. The ideals behind the Arts and Craft movement are very much alive today and in some ways being revived with the similarities in slow design and the slow furniture movement which are increasingly gaining popularity. Happily what AUTHOR stands for is being reflected in Western society as a whole, it may be slow but at least it is on the right track towards a more thoughtful future in design.

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About the Author


Written by Jane Adams, founder of Author Interiors. LinkedIn:

Read more about her here.

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