Sutherland Rose: creation through restriction

The strengths of true designs often shine more during times of austerity: the limitations of materials allow the creative mind to offer alternatives that may never normally reach the market place.

During WWII rationing of all kinds were in place and the Utility Design Panel, created in 1943, were commissioned to engage artists from across the board, to challenge their skills in different areas.

Like the Utility furniture and fabrics, there were clear specifications regarding the amount of material and labour allowed to be used in their construction. Some artists had already worked on governmental commissions and were invested with rejuvenating British industries from 1945 culminating in the Festival of Britain in 1951.

War artist, Graham Sutherland, known for his painting, poster designs, glass work and textiles, was appointed by the Government from 1940 to 1945, to mainly depict the work carried out on the Home Front. It was during this time of restriction that he developed more of his textile designs, many with a repeating rose pattern.

Warner & Sons purchased the company, Helios, in 1950. Amongst the paper and fabrics samples was a hand painted paper design from 1940 called ‘White Rose’ by Graham Sutherland. Warner & Sons printed the design almost immediately on a striking red ground and complementary green, re-naming the design ‘Sutherland Rose’.

Sutherland Rose greetings card - image

The image has been re-printed as part of our greetings card range and is also now available as an art print, which is part of the current exhibition ‘Designers in Print’ at Braintree Library.

Sutherland Rose - art print


Warner & Sons: Textiles and Gardened Landscape

Gardens and landscapes have been depicted in art and wall murals since antiquity, but after the fall of the Roman Empire they became representations for religious and figural scenes. It was not until the 16th century that artists began to look at them as worthy of depiction in their own right.

The word ‘landscape’ derives from the Dutch, meaning landschap and became a popular term during the 1500s when the Dutch artists developed the subject more seriously. Looking through such paintings and drawings, the viewer can see a record of not only the changing landscape, but of how people felt at the time about the world around them. The same thought applies to textile design over the centuries, reflecting not only the growth in world-trade but also the trade in plants, agriculture and broadening travel.

Textiles have always been a part of this story, whether in the paintings themselves, as the fabric worn by the figures or within the interiors depicted, but also in the room that the completed painting would hang. Textiles, like paintings, tell a story and often say as much about the wearer, their beliefs and the story that they want to express to others. Nature and our landscape has always been a part of this narrative and the plants and flowers within them grew to become symbols and tell a story of their own.

Flowers, such as the tulip, which had once originated from the mountains of Turkey, became the most desirable flower on earth and during the height of Tulip Mania in 1637, one ‘Viceroy’ bulb sold for the equivalent of £2,500 in today’s money and a ‘Semper Augustus’ sold for over £6,000.

The tulip became a symbol of not only luxury, but also expressed the wearer’s knowledge of travel and fashion. Its stylised form woven and printed on to cloth created a conversation piece where ever it was worn.

Detail of hand woven Spitalfields silk, 1743 - 1745, showing tulip motif

Detail of hand woven Spitalfields silk, 1743- 1745, showing the tulip floral motif

The Huguenots were attributed to bringing the art and pleasure of gardening to the overcrowded Spitalfields and Bethnal Green, with hanging baskets filling the narrow alleyways, used for not only pleasure, but as a way of growing the much needed plants for dyeing their silks.

By the late 18th century, and with the ever increasing industrialisation of the countryside, the pastoral landscapes became idealised within art, and the fashion made popular by Marie Antoinette. These stylised landscapes as a repeating and printable motif, known as a toile de jouy could be manufactured in large quantities for the general population and not for just for the elite.

2 - Doc 823 - detailed toile de Jouy showing pastoral scenes

Document 823 – toile de jouy pastoral scene c.1800s

As technologies improved and with the introduction of copper roller printing in manufacturing during the 1780s, more detailed patterns could be reproduced at cheaper cost. Often the outline of the design was printed by the copper roller, and the areas of colour were still being blocked in by hand up to the mid-19th century.

3 - Roller printed cotton with colour in-fill, French c.1800s

Roller Printed Cotton with colour in fill, French c.1800s

As the style for idealised landscapes changed within art the artists were experimenting with painting outside, plein air, and creating a closer connection with their natural surroundings. This fertile ground gave birth to movements such as the Pre Raphaelites and designers such as William Morris, where the representation of nature rose to the greatest importance within their design philosophy.

4 - Tudor Rose, designed by William Morris and printed by Warner & Sons

Tudor Rose, designed by William Morris and printed by Warner & Sons

Towards the end of the century the fashions looked back again to the 18th century for their inspiration, before grasping on to the elaborately organic forms of the Art Nouveau and then into a more dynamic decade of the Jazz Age. Here natural forms were stylised with what we would consider a graphic or illustrative hand, which filtered through to every average home. Following WWI there was a yearning for more peaceable times and nostalgia for the Tudor period, giving life to the ‘Tudorbethan’ style.

5 - Hand block printed silk by Warner & Sons from the late 1920s showing busy floral pattern

Hand block printed silk by Warner & Sons from the late 1920s showing busy floral pattern

Tapestry,  power woven fabric from the 1920s, early 1930s by Warner & Sons - design taken from Tudor needlework

Tapestry, power woven fabric from the 1920s, early 1930s by Warner & Sons – design taken from Tudor needlework

The mid-20th century threw many of the formative traditions out of the window, but interestingly remained true to showing nature and landscapes but with a new vigour, style and colour palette. The introduction of screen printing in main stream manufacturing after WWII allowed for greater flexibility within design and encouraged not only innovation, but an ability to refresh designs seasonally.

Green Pastures, screen printed by Warner & Sons, 1953

Green Pastures, screen printed by Warner & Sons, 1953

Design Director from the late 60s onwards, Eddie Squries, encouraged the in-house studio to experiment with ideas and challenge what had become a conservative high-end decorator’s market.  The bold designs of the 1960s and 70s, showed Warner & Sons’ ability to combine modern style with traditional form and ensured they remained leaders in the industry.

Yentai, printed cotton, Warner & Sons, designed by Eddie Squries, 1966

Yentai, printed cotton, Warner & Sons, designed by Eddie Squries, 1966

Hand woven dress silk c.1780

After the death of Louis XIV in 1715, dress became simpler during the 18th century. The outline of gentlemen’s coats became tighter fitting above the waist and flared out over the hips whilst feminine dress always included the corset, trimmed with lace and ribbons, with an overskirt attached to the corset and pulled up on each side to increase the volume.

Highly patterned fabrics were still the fashion, some with added embellishment, with the rich brocades and velvets remaining the reserve of the rich. Many designs incorporated this look of embellishment, either within the pattern repeat, or to give the impression of detailing.  Many of these designs (being hand woven on draw looms) required great skills to create these complex patterns.


                  Doc 302, hand woven silk fabric c.1780

The fabric piece within the Archive, Doc 302, is a wonderful example of this work. The pattern displays small bunches of flowers, ‘sprigs’ which are laid in a ‘scattered’ pattern. Amongst these pretty bunches, the pattern of a piece of lace has been folded, to create a uniting repeat. The design encompasses the later 18th century interest in nature, a soft motif such as the flowers, combined with a structure, often follies or landscapes – in this case, lace. At one point, the fashion for lace became so excessive that a limit of use was passed in almost every country. Therefore, using lace as a pattern in itself became a fashionable substitute.

Doc 302 - whole piece front - lower res

Doc 302, hand woven silk fabric c.1780

The sample shown is a section from a dress corset, which has been carefully unpicked. A soft pink/lilac as the ground colour sets the more vibrant colours within the flowers, each bunch being hand brocaded into the cloth. The photograph of the back of the cloth, shows how the yarn ‘floats’ across the back of the fabric, and is reintroduced back into the design, when the weaver needed to weave more of the pattern.


    Doc 302, hand woven silk fabric c.1780

Many fabrics from this period have not survived, due to wear and tear, but also as they would often be cut up, alongside the changing fashions. The Archive has many quality samples from this period as furnishing as well as dress fabrics.

Empire: a style of change

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, the BBC has produced a series of television and radio programmes that challenge well-held views on Napoleon, his strategies and the legacies left.

One such legacy of this tumultuous and stimulating period in history is the influence this fascinating man had on creating a defined style that has lasted through to the present day.

Born in Corsica during the summer of 1769, Napoleon served in the French Military and became an influential political leader, rising to prominence during the French Revolution.

As he gained ground through smaller battles, the French people came to see Napoleon as a strident force. In 1798 he commanded a military expedition to Egypt, conquering the Ottoman province. Through the discoveries made during this time, an interest in modern Egyptology was launched.

Doc 816 for web

Copper roller printed cotton, with hand blocked additional colour, c.1810, French

This interesting example depicts the highlights of Napoleon’s campaigns, with the Egyptian expedition shown top-right. These sorts of textiles were popular during their day as an alternative to positivizing political literature and were laden with clear messages to all.

Growing in power, Napoleon soon came to dominate European affairs. From 1804 he began his 11 year long tenure as Emperor of the French. The period prior to his reign and during was defined by great military might and enforced subscription became the norm, and fear, of many French families.

Doc 564 for web

Copper roller printed toile, 1800s, French

The pattern on this illustrative toile portrays dramatic scenes of countrymen going to war, leaving their homes and families behind. With its incredible detailing, the fabric expresses the negative alternative to the popular views of Napoleon’s rule, showing the great sadness of departure and the broken men this formed.

One of the greatest commanders in history, greatly travelled and with an exotic and sophisticated wife, Napoleon viewed the ‘old style’ of design, before the Reign of Terror, as representative of an unhealthy and extravagant royalist lifestyle, one which he had worked hard to destroy.

Although the emphasis on motifs and representation remained in an altered form, throughout the Napoleonic period the fashion for softer tones and a lighter palette with simpler flourishing and gold detailing came to the fore. Many designs were created to reflect the new French empire using symbols such as the wreath in a strong and simplistic manner.

Fern & Wreath for web
Fern & Wreath - hand woven silk

A hand woven silk tissue, 1840s, English

This example of wreath and fern motif originated from this period and became fashionable some years later in England. Its popularity continued throughout the 19th century and up to the outbreak of WWII. Its sophisticated and elegant shapes afforded flexibility thus helping to sustain its familiarity throughout the design world. It is now considered a classic in modern terms.

Whilst he remains one of the most controversial political figures in western history, ironically the ‘Empire’ style that Napoleon was integral in developing has conversely grown to become a symbol of elegance and taste for the well-heeled.

In Review – Selling Silks: A Merchant’s Sample Book (1764)

by Lesley Ellis Miller
V&A Publishing, 2014

In 1972, Warner & Sons sold a selection of items from its business archive through Christie’s, and donated a special collection to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Selected by Nathalie Rothstein, among the pieces in the auction was a book dated 1760, and filled with beautiful, hand-woven dress silk samples.


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