All About William Morris: The Textile Designer and His Designs

All About William Morris: The Textile Designer and His Designs

Think ‘pioneer modern design’...

Chances are, William Morris is one of the first few names to pop up.

As one of the most popular designers of the 19th century, Morris gained appreciation for his close observation of nature. And he loved to showcase this through his appealing designs!

But what exactly is it about William Morris that sets him apart from all other designers? Keep reading to find out 🤍

Who was William Morris?

William Morris wasn’t just a textile designer—he was a titan of the Arts and Crafts movement. A poet, an artist, a writer. Even a socialist activist! 

However, we especially like to mention his impact on the world of textiles. It’s truly undeniable—with his designs still admired today. Rightly so, as their beauty and historical significance deserve all the fame.

A Rebel Against the Machine 

Let’s talk a little about Morris’ history.

Morris was born in 1834 into a wealthy middle-class family. During his time, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. This meant mass-produced goods were… well, everywhere. Morris, however, had a smart eye. He felt this was a decline in quality as well as craftsmanship. He knew the value of hand-made objects—and wanted to revive these.

This belief was what later fueled him for textiles. We especially appreciate Morris for his return to natural dyes and hand-weaving methods. He studied historical textiles—particularly those from medieval Europe—and incorporated those influences into his own designs.

Founding the Arts and Crafts Movement

Moving forward, in 1861, Morris co-founded Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. This was a decorative arts firm—which later became a major force in the burgeoning Arts and Crafts movement. The movement focused on reviving traditional art techniques that had become obsolete. For example, natural dyeing and hand embroidery. It also aimed to give craftsmen their lost status as well as prestige. 

As part of the movement, Morris and his colleagues designed everything from furniture and wallpaper to stained glass windows. It’s true that the philosophies quickly became popular, but Morris truly shone in his textiles.

Early Designs

The British wallpaper market was booming in the early 1860s. There were so many mass-produced papers offering a cheaper (but lower-quality) alternative to textile-based wall decor. Morris noticed how popular these were becoming, so he knew he had to make them a key part of his company.

The first paper Morris designed in 1862 was named “Trellis”. The reason behind the name? A pattern inspired by the rose trellis in the garden of Red House. The second was “Daisy”, made in 1864. This was based on a simple design of naively drawn meadow flowers. The third pattern, “Fruit” (1865), also showcased naturalism.

To date, he is famous for his textiles (and accompanying wallpapers), which feature toned-down patterns. But these goods were only a small part of a much larger ecosystem—one that blends together art and design. 

Nature’s Inspiration

Morris’s textile designs were known for their natural beauty. He drew inspiration from the flora and fauna around him. So, you could see flowers, birds, and even fantastical creatures in his patterns. The Victorian times saw plenty of farish colors, but you wouldn’t find these in Morris’s designs. Instead, he preferred muted tones and natural dyes.

Morris wasn’t merely replicating what he saw… He was an artist, and his designs reflected that! He might take inspiration from wildflowers, but in his hands, they’d become this unique mix of color and form. He gave them a rhythmic grace. One that spoke to a deeper harmony with nature. He was all about capturing the essence of an ecosystem, as well as the interconnectedness of life. And eventually, weaved this into a piece of fabric.

The focus on natural beauty is also manifested in his color palette. Morris opted for subtle hues found in nature. Think earthy greens, soft blues, and muted reds. He achieved these colors through natural dyes—and made sure they reflected calming natural beauty.

Popularizing Medieval Aesthetics

William Morris’s fascination wasn’t only associated with historical texts. It actively blended into his textile designs—adding romance and historical richness. He wasn’t simply copying medieval motifs; he reinterpreted them in his own unique way.

Imagine a stylized flower, one that would remind you of illuminated manuscripts; its petals rendered in a muted blue. Or perhaps a fantastical creature (inspired by medieval bestiaries), perched on a vine that would feel like the patterns found in Gothic tapestries. These are just a glimpse of how Morris wove the spirit of the Middle Ages into his fabrics.

A point worth noting here is that this wasn’t simply an aesthetic choice for Morris. It was a deliberate rebellion against the mass-produced (often gaudy) textiles of the Victorian era. He incorporated elements of the medieval past. And this, in turn, offered a sense of history and handcrafted beauty (the type that was authentic). His designs helped bring in a new style of interior design—one that celebrated the narrative potential of textiles as well as the charm of a bygone era. 


William Morris Techniques 

William Morris was a scholar of traditional craftsmanship. And you can clearly see his philosophy in his design techniques!

Natural dyes. Morris rejected the harsh chemical dyes becoming popular in Victorian times. Instead, he chose natural dyes. Think varieties derived from plants, insects, and minerals. These dyes created a more subtle color palette—and also offered a richer quality.

Hand-weaving. Morris really believed in the value of hand-woven fabrics. This technique allowed for greater control over the design as well as texture of the fabric. 

Pattern repetition. Morris’s designs often incorporated repeating patterns that spoke of nature. These patterns created this beautiful sense of rhythm and balance.

Traditional motifs. While Morris drew inspiration from nature, he also incorporated traditional motifs. (Particularly those from the medieval period). He often reinterpreted these motifs in his own unique style.

High-quality materials. We appreciate Morris for using only the finest materials in his work. This included natural fibers like wool and cotton—chosen for their durability and beauty.

Popular William Morris Designs

Before we wind up, we want to share some William Morris designs that you can use in your own home—in so many different ways 💚

William Morris Tapestry Golden Lily—The design features a scene reminiscent of Morris’s nature-inspired tapestries. The lush green foliage, paired with golden lilies, gives this sense of abundance.

Where to use: The design’s vertical orientation makes it perfect for upholstery projects. Think chair and ottoman upholstery.

William Morris Tapestry Pimpernel Blue—This blue-grey design is a charming example of the Arts and Crafts influence Morris had. The delicate cream-colored pimpernel flowers against the muted blue-and-grey background speak for Morris’s love of nature. 

Where to use: This light-use fabric is perfect for curtains. It brings a touch of William Morris’s classic floral beauty (and muted elegance!) to your windows. 

William Morris Tapestry and Chenille Strawberry Thief Red Weave—The fabric features a copy of William Morris’s iconic “Strawberry Thief” design. Red strawberries peek out from leaves against a blue background—again flaunting his love for nature.

Where to use: Here, there’s plenty of texture added by the thick weave. So, consider using it for your upholstery projects (e.g. cushions). 

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