May Morris: Embroidery as Art

Before the great uglification that was the 20th century there was a brief period of aesthetic hope led by the prophetic John Ruskin and his followers, most notably William Morris. A 2017 exhibition and catalog brings some much needed recognition to his daughter May Morris.

May was probably the best embroiderer the world has ever known. Her work is more like painting than stitching and she raised the craft to levels not seen since the late medieval period.

May was a gifted designer and artist and worked in many mediums including fashion and jewelry.

You can read her embroidery manual Decorative Needlework online.

Are Root Simple readers also avid embroiderers? Leave a comment!

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  1. I am a very avid embroiderer, and I use embroidery to decorate both my modern clothing, and the historical clothing I make for my activities in the Society for Creative Anachronism. I have been sewing since I was a tiny child, so at this point for well over fifty years. (Embroidery is one of two things I do to unwind, not my primary vocation/avocation which is metalwork and enameling)

  2. I love to embroider, but I’m certainly nowhere near the level of May Morris. Grandma taught me to sew before I went to school and I made all of my kids’ clothes (except underwear) when they were growing up. Can’t tat, but I do make bobbin lace. I’ve made a couple of quilts and I can knit socks like nobody’s business, but just don’t have the patience to make anything big like a sweater. I wish I knew how to crochet; Mom and Grandma were experts at crochet, but I never learned from them when they were alive.

  3. I haven’t embroidered in a long time, but I used to do a lot of it when I was active in Renaissance Fairs and SCA. Her work is gorgeous and represents my favorite era of decorative arts.

  4. Yes, I am an avid embroiderer and May Morris is one of my heroines. For a long time I was stitching about environmental themes and sharing them in contemporary art galleries. In the past year my work has taken new direction, more aligned to the work of May Morris I think. Here’s a video I made this week about the latest developments in my embroidery practice. #sacredseamstress

  5. I’ve dabbled, but MAN! This is a whole new level! My first piece was a freehand little bluebird. It turned out the best of anything I’ve made. Beginners luck? Or maybe I just overthink it now these days….or think I need a pattern to follow.

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