William Morris's fascination in the natural environment may be traced back to his youth. He liked reading from an early age, and the Morris family library was another source of inspiration. A copy of John Gerard's "The Herball," or "Generall Historie of Plantes," first published in 1597, was one of his favorite books. It had a profound influence on him.
As he grew older, he began to draw plants and animals and gave them symbolic names such as "the green herb of life" and "the white unicorn of the clouds." These images would later be used by artists for their decorations. In 1855, he founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, which is today known as the Save Britain's Historic Buildings charity. The society aimed to preserve historic buildings and encouraged people to use modern materials in construction projects instead. This idea would later become central to the Arts and Crafts movement.
Morris also designed wallpaper. He invented a printing technique that used vegetable dyes to print patterns onto cloth. These fabrics were then woven into articles such as curtains and upholstery. This activity led him to create several new companies that produced textile products. One of these companies was called The Painted Page. It sold images of plants and animals printed on paper for use as book covers.
Another company that he created was called Kelmscott Press. It published only one book in its entire history: "Maud Evelyn" by Christina Rossetti.
He and his siblings were each given their own garden area. It had a profound effect on him because it had illustrations of all the plants described in the book. This inspired him to write poems and drawings about other plants he saw during his walks around Oxford.
William Morris also enjoyed watching tournaments and sports events when he went to town with his parents. This interest in games and sport would later influence his design work for football clubs like Oxford University and Chelsea Football Club.
When William was only nine years old, his father died and was replaced by a new husband named Richard. Under this new husband and wife team, William began to work for Morris & Co. as an apprentice weaver. We know today that Morris & Co. made some of the most beautiful fabrics in Europe at the time. But back then they were just another busy weaving business like many others in Oxford. They even had an upstairs room where you could find them selling their products directly to consumers.
During William's apprenticeship years, the weavers working for Morris & Co. went on strike twice. The first time was in 1825 and the second time was in 1842. Both times it was because they wanted higher wages and better conditions.
Morris employed natural shapes in his creations in an unconventional way. He was intimately familiar with flora, yet he never duplicated them literally. He didn't believe it was feasible or desirable to try to mimic nature. He thought that patterns should be "beautiful, imaginative, and orderly," and he applied these concepts to all of his work.
One of the houses he designed is still standing near Oxford University. The architecture of this house is based on the shape of a walnut tree. It has a horizontal branch line above the entrance door and a vertical one at the side. This design element was used by other Victorian-era architects as well. They called it the "walnut tree effect."
Walnut trees are known for their sturdy nature and can live up to 100 years. They are also popular because of their edible nuts. So, there you have it: natural form related to food, longevity, and strength.
Here are some of Morris' other unnatural designs: a swan (with no real relation to any form in nature), a fish, an elephant, a giraffe, a dragon, and a camel. You get the idea. He used whatever material was available at the time as a basis for his designs. That means wood, stone, metal—you name it. He used what was around him to create objects people would enjoy using and living with.
You may wonder why these designs aren't considered natural forms.
Morris, more than any other British decorative arts artist, brought the outdoor world within through the various wallpapers and fabrics he created throughout his career. He used inspiration from the outdoors and hedgerow plants to populate his patterns, and he drew inspiration from old-fashioned garden flowers to shape his designs. He also made use of other materials, such as leather and silk, in order to create a sense of luxury inside his customers' homes.
Morris first came to public attention when he designed the wallpaper for Lord Leighton's ballroom at Kensington Palace. The pattern, which was based on ancient Chinese paper money, was an immediate success and became one of the most copied designs of its time. It is said that Morris took his inspiration for this design from the fields near his home in Devon, where he would spend hours watching birds fly into the hedgerows with their tails feathers trailing behind them. He also may have taken cues from the flora of South America, where he traveled during the period when he was creating these papers.
After this initial success, Morris went on to design more and more patterns until he had produced around 150 over the course of 15 years. During this time, he also began to work with other artists and craftsmen to create furniture, carpets, and lace products that were sold under his name.
Morris had to employ contemporary, mechanical weaving for the majority of his textiles, but according to his artisan ethic, he solely used natural dyes, despite the availability of numerous synthetic hues in Victorian England. Morris' flowers, vines, and leaves look more natural with this naturalistic color palette. He also used traditional mordants such as copper or iron to lighten his colors before washing them away.
In addition to using natural dyes, Morris tried to use as many local materials as possible, which is why most of his fabrics are made from English wool and cotton. He also preferred to use as much handmade work as possible, including sewing, quilting, and embroidery. Finally, he demanded quality fabric from his own weavers and spinners so they would have a long working life under heavy use.
With these constraints in mind, it's no surprise that most of Morris' designs are quite conservative in tone. They usually feature simple shapes, like circles or squares, in solid colors or with simple patterning. However, he did come up with some innovative designs over time. For example, he developed a process called "repeated dyeing" where only certain parts of a cloth require dyeing. So, for example, you could dye one side of a piece of linen red, then white, then red again. Only the first and last rows of stitching would need to be done by hand, while the middle section could be woven on a machine.