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Tulip textile printing block

This printing wood block with used to print Morris & Co.'s designs onto cotton and was made by the firm of Barrett, 249 Bethnal Green Road. William Morris's original drawing, or those of his other chief designer's, would be transferred onto a pearwood surface using tracing paper. Morris would check all the blocks for accuracy before the pattern was carved into the surface by Barrett's carvers. Each block was cut to match a different colour of the design and had to register correctly to ensure the pattern was printed accurately. Small pins were inserted in the edge of the block which when printed left tiny dots of colour. This allowed the printer to line the blocks up in the right place.

At Merton Abbey the cloth was stretched over a blanket underlay on one of the long tables in the printing shop. The printer would press the printing block into a dye-pad and then lay it into position on the fabric. The block was then tapped with a mall (a led weighted mallet) to ensure an even impression on the cloth. The printer then lifted the block, applied more colour and repeated the process down the whole length of the fabric. By this time the first colour had dried, allowing the application of second colour.