Fruit of the loom: conserving May Morris’ wall hangings

May Morris, the daughter of William Morris, designed these wall hangings for Melsetter House in Orkney, which was owned by the Middlemores. May was friends with Theodosia Middlemore and they worked on them together around 1900.

Rare May Morris Embroideries Saved for the Nation

They are wool embroidery on linen and, interestingly, the colours of each are slightly different. The embroidery stitching also varies a little, although both are of a good standard. You can tell different people embroidered them and my feeling is that the slightly neater one could be by May, as she was the most accomplished embroiderer of her generation.

May Morris embroideries

They were generally in good condition when they came to us, although the colours were quite faded on the front and the linen was crumpled and creased. The hanging I’ve been working on also had a couple of tears, partly to do with the way it was shown before. Lynn McClean, Principal Textile Conservator, helped me with cleaning the hanging.

Rare May Morris Embroideries Saved for the Nation

I stitched on Velcro contact fasteners to the top edge to give an even distribution of weight for when the hanging goes on display in 2016 in the new galleries of decorative art, design and fashion alongside some examples of William Morris furniture. Only one hanging at a time will be shown to the public. The other will be kept in storage and will be displayed at some time in the future.

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