International Women’s Day | Jess Talks May

To celebrate International Women’s Day, our lead designer, Jess, talks about one of her heroines and a legend of the Morris & Co. studio from years gone by, May Morris.

“I am so proud to head up the design team here at Morris & Co., and one of the greatest pulls for me is the catalogue of creative names linked to the brand. Not least of all, is one May Morris.

An unbelievable spirit, both creatively and personally, May is one of the guiding lights of Morris & Co. and the Arts & Crafts Movement. Working everyday with an archive as rich as the one left to us by the brand, I can sense the creative touch of May in many of the designs she created or co-authored.

Remembering May, for me, is about honouring the contributions women have always made to Morris & Co. and doing the important work of uncovering and celebrating them for posterity.”



“Born in 1862 to parents William and Jane, May showed her creative flair from a young age. May learned to embroider from her mother, Jane, the muse and Pre-raphaelite ‘Beauty’ of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s paintings. So accomplished was May at needlework, at the young age of just 23, she became the Director of the Embroidery Department at her father’s company, Morris & Co.!

May stayed in this position until William’s death in 1896, authoring a vast range of embroidery designs. Instrumental in resurrecting a free-form type of embroidery, May was as adamant as her father in asserting the right of the creator to have freedom in her work.

Prolific in many different arts, May also created at least three wallpaper designs, including the hugely popular Honeysuckle.” Model.



“May’s skill in creating beautiful works was in unity with her progressive views for a better world. A committed socialist, she was an active part of the Hammersmith Socialist League established by her father. May, a lifelong feminist, advocated for improving the representation of women in trades and crafts, co-founding the Women’s Guild of Arts in 1907 and teaching embroidery in schools throughout London.  

Publishing her father’s socialist writings, as well as his biography, May also embarked on a lecture tour of the United States in 1909, broadcasting the need for a more nourishing relationship to craft traditions.”



“The pulse of May’s creative brilliance beats on through a lot of the contemporary designs and collections from today’s Morris & Co. Below are just a few of my top designs created or inspired by May’s fabulous work.”



Showcasing May and other leading embroiderers’ talents, our Melsetter collection is dedicated to the historic craft and incredible skill of needlewomen. It’s chock full of fabrics which charm and delight with natural motifs.



The Seasons By May wallpaper is our interpretation of a c.1895 embroidery called ‘Spring and Summer’ designed and probably produced by May Morris. Translated onto a textured cloth, the pattern features a mirrored trellis of parakeets, florals and turning stems elevated with intricate detail across the feathers and petals.

Seasons By May also makes a beautiful feature bedding design.



Taken from our Emery Walker’s House collection, a place where May herself felt right at home in her lifetime, May’s Coverlet is an extraordinary crewel embroidered coverlet. Created by May for Emery Walker’s wife, Mary, during the last bedridden years of her life, it exemplifies May’s astonishing needlework abilities.

Watch our video with World of Interiors to find out more about the Emery Walker's House collection or skip to 4.48 mins to listen to Jess!



Beguiling, jewel-like colours bring to life a startling array of meadow flowers set against a deep midnight indigo. A design of incredible detail and beauty, Flowers By May originally adorned the seat of a 17th-century chair which once stood in the library of William Morris. Residing since his death in the home of his friend, neighbour and noted typographer, Sir Emery Walker, May Morris created the covered cushion with the dedication “MM to EW”.



A hybrid design created in part from a ceiling wallpaper by Arts and Crafts designer Andrew Brophy (1844-1912), and in part using the structure of the trellis, flowers and leaves from one of May Morris’s designs. The Brophy Embroidery represents a real synthesis of great Arts & Crafts styles from two of its keenest proponents.

posted on 06 Mar 2023 in Interviews

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