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On display

Snakeshead (designed 1876, manufactured post 1917)

William Morris (1834 - 1896)

This printed fabric shows how Morris learnt from contemporary cottons imported from India, particularly in the strongly contrasting reds and blues, and the way the three-dimensional forms of flowers and leaves could be transformed into flat patterns.

Morris admired the fact that Indian cottons were hand-printed with natural, rather than chemical, dyes. In Britain knowledge of how to produce dyes from plants and vegetables was fast disappearing; most textile manufacturers found chemical dyes cheaper and easier to use. But Morris felt natural colours had a richness lacking in chemical dyes, and spent ten years working with a Staffordshire silk dyer named Thomas Wardle to revive their use. 

Seven printing blocks (the pattern required four blocks) used to print this fabric are in the Gallery's collection.