Shop Tour: Morris & Co.

We take a tour of Morris & Co.

My hosts from Style/Library and Morris & Co. took care of that for me and our small group of magazine editors and designers, last September. After a much-too-short visit to the famous house Standen, we landed at Morris & Co.’s archives and design studio in Denham. Archivist Keren Protheroe showed us samples from the nearly intact collection, which includes textile samples, pattern books, and, most interesting, ledgers with annotated designs. “The ledger is where they’d use a spectrometer to take an accurate color off the original,” Dr. Protheroe says. “We have four of [Morris’s] books that go from the first papers printed in 1864 through the ones in 1895.”

Anstey Wallpaper Co. in Loughborough is where wallpapers from many designer brands in the U.K. and the U.S. are made using surface, digital, and block printing. We watched as eight-color surface printing took place in the busy factory. “Paint flows into a bucket, then to a tray, and a blade applies it in the correct amount to the cylinder,” explained Keith Fenton, export sales manager. Ink in saturated shades of blue, brown, and peach roll and drip on a machine linked to a long line of other machinery. In an astonishing transformation, rolls of freshly completed ‘Bird and Pomegranate’ fold up in a tray at the end of the line.

A hand-blocked version of an early William Morris paper is festooned to dry at the Anstey factory.

Anstey also does block printing on request; hundreds of archival blocks are kept in a climate-controlled environment near the factory floor. The blocks are made of fruitwood, sometimes reinforced with metal where greater wear occurs. Some are so worn they can’t be reused and new ones have to be cut. ‘Fruit’, one of Morris’s most popular designs, was originally block printed. “They couldn’t produce it fast enough, so they went to surface printing,” Fenton says.

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