William Morris

On display

Snakeshead (designed 1876, manufactured post 1917)

William Morris (1834 - 1896)

Snakeshead printed cotton
See license information

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.