Essay – The evolution of decorative art


The evolution of decorative art

ESSAY

04-Essay - The evolution of decorative art

[ Source Info:  http://archive.org/   ]

The evolution of decorative art : an essay upon its origin and development as illustrated by the art of modern races of mankind (1893)

By Balfour Henry

 

PREFACE

In presenting this short and, as I am well aware, imperfect essay to the public, I feel that it is necessary  to say a few words in justification of my action.  Although, for a proper comprehension of the growth  of Art, it is necessary that its evolution should be  studied from its very simplest beginning, this aspect  of the subject has hardly been touched upon by  writers of so-called * Histories of Art.’ In these,  frequently very excellent works, the history of art is  traced back perhaps to Assyrian and Ancient Egyptian civilisations, and a few writers dwell briefly upon the  characteristics of modern Savage Art. Few of them,  however, offer any study of the Art of the more  primitive of the living races of mankind, with a view  to explaining, by a process of reasoning from the  known to the unknown, the first efforts of Primaeval  Man to produce objects which should be pleasing to  the eye, and gratify his growing aesthetic feelings.

The Art of Design must, we know, have had a continuous history, and have grown up gradually  from simple beginnings, at first by easy stages,  involving but slight intellectual efforts, steadily  progressing until it has become an essential element  in our surroundings, absorbing a vast amount of  complex reasoning, the result of the accumulation  and combination of simple ideas, which are the outcome of experience during countless ages.

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http://archive.org/details/evolutionofdecor00balfuoft

[for the article Full Rights Reserved ©Archive.org Website, contributors, Balfour Henry]

Exoticism in the Decorative Arts


Exoticism in the Decorative Arts

 03-Exoticism in the Decorative Arts

[ Source Info:  http://www.metmuseum.org  ]

 

 

European interest in non-Western art was first stimulated by trade with the East in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (17.190.2045). By the nineteenth century, with the advent of the railroad and steamship, lands that were little known to Westerners became easier to access. As more Europeans traveled beyond the established routes of the Grand Tour, their experiences abroad began to influence their tastes at home. Other influences were a result of England’s massive imperial control over lands in China, India, Africa, and the Pacific. By mid-century, many non-Western forms and ornamental motifs had found their way into the vocabulary of European decorative arts.

“Like Orientalist subjects in nineteenth-century painting, exoticism in the decorative arts and interior decoration was associated with fantasies of opulence and “barbaric splendour,”

 

Read more from the original article here:

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/exot/hd_exot.htm

 

[for the article Full Rights Reserved ©The Metropolitan Museum of Art]

 

Crafts – Embroidery


Crafts – Embroidery

08-Crafts – Embroidery

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http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Arts_and_Crafts_Essays/Of_Embroidery  ]

 

 

EMBROIDERY

By May Morris

 

The technicalities of Embroidery are very simple and its tools few — practically consisting of a needle, and nothing else. The work can be wrought loose in the hand, or stretched in a frame, which latter mode is often advisable, always when smooth and minute work is aimed at. There are no mysteries of method beyond a few elementary rules that can be quickly learnt; no way to perfection except that of care and patience and love of the work itself. This being so, the more is demanded from design and execution: we look for complete triumph over the limitations of process and material, and, what is equally important, a certain judgment and self-restraint; and, in short, those mental qualities that distinguish mechanical from intelligent work. The latitude allowed to the worker; the lavishness and ingenuity displayed in the stitches employed; in short, the vivid expression of the worker’s individuality, form a great part of the success of needlework.

The varieties of stitch are too many to be closely described without diagrams, but the chief are as follows: —

Chain-stitch consists of loops simulating the links of a simple chain. Some of the most famous work of the Middle Ages was worked in this stitch, which is enduring, and of its nature necessitates careful execution. We are more familiar with it in the dainty work of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in the airy brightness and simplicity of which lies a peculiar charm, contrasted with the more pompous and pretentious work of the same period. This stitch is also wrought with a hook on any loose material stretched in a tambour frame.

Tapestry-stitch consists of a building-up of stitches laid one beside another, and gives a surface slightly resembling that of tapestry. I give the name as it is so often used, but it is vague, and leads to the confusion that exists in people’s minds between loom-tapestry and embroidery. The stitch is worked in a frame, and is particularly suitable for the drapery of figures and anything that requires skilful blending of several colours, or a certain amount of shading. This facility of “painting” with the needle is in itself a danger, for it tempts some people to produce a highly shaded imitation of a picture, an attempt which must be a failure both as a decorative and as a pictorial achievement. It cannot be said too often that the essential qualities of all good needlework are a broad surface, bold lines and pure, brilliant and, as a rule, simple colouring; all of which being qualities attainable through, and prescribed by, the limitations of this art.

Appliqué has been, and is still, a favourite method of work, which Vasari tells us Botticelli praised as being very suitable to processional banners and hangings used in the open air, as it is solid and enduring, also bold and effective in style. It is more accurately described as a method of work in which various stitches are made use of, for it consists of designs embroidered on a stout ground and then cut out and laid on silk or velvet, and edged round with lines of gold or silk, and sometimes with pearls. It requires considerable deftness and judgment in applying, as the work could well be spoilt by clumsy and heavy finishing. It is now looked upon as solely ecclesiastical, I believe, and is associated in our minds with garish red, gold and white, and with dull geometric ornament, though there is absolutely no reason why church embroidery of to-day should be limited to ungraceful forms and staring colours. A certain period of work, thick and solid, but not very interesting, either as to method or design, has been stereotyped into what is known as Ecclesiastical Embroidery, the mechanical characteristics of the style being, of course, emphasised and exaggerated in the process. Church work will never be of the finest while these characteristics are insisted on; the more pity, as it is seemly that the richest and noblest work should be devoted to churches, and to all buildings that belong to and are an expression of the communal life of the people. Another and simpler form of applied work is to cut out the desired forms in one material and lay upon another, securing the appliqué with stitches round the outline, which are hidden by an edging cord. The work may be further enriched by light ornament of lines and flourishes laid directly on the ground material.

Couching is an effective method of work, in which broad masses of silk or gold thread are laid down and secured by a network or diaper of crossing threads, through which the under surface shines very prettily. It is often used in conjunction with appliqué. There are as many varieties of couching stitches as the worker has invention for; in some the threads are laid simply and flatly on the form to be covered, while in others a slight relief is obtained by layers of soft linen thread which form a kind of moulding or stuffing, and which are covered by the silk threads or whatever is to be the final decorative surface.

The ingenious patchwork coverlets of our grandmothers, formed of scraps of old gowns pieced together in certain symmetrical forms, constitute the romance of family history, but this method has an older origin than would be imagined. Queen Isis-em-Kheb’s embalmed body went down the Nile to its burial-place under a canopy that was lately discovered, and is preserved in the Boulak Museum. It consists of many squares of gazelle-hide of different colours sewn together and ornamented with various devices. Under the name of patchwork, or mosaic-like piecing together of different coloured stuffs, comes also the Persian work made at Resht. Bits of fine cloth are cut out for leaves, flowers, and so forth, and neatly stitched together with great accuracy. This done, the work is further carried out and enriched by chain and other stitches. The result is perfectly smooth flat work, no easy feat when done on a large scale, as it often is.

Darning and running need little explanation. The former stitch is familiar to us in the well-known Cretan and Turkish cloths: the stitch here is used mechanically in parallel lines, and simulates weaving, so that these handsome borders in a deep rich red might as well have come from the loom as from the needle. Another method of darning is looser and coarser, and suitable only for cloths and hangings not subject to much wear and rubbing; the stitches follow the curves of the design, which the needle paints, as it were, shading and blending the colours. It is necessary to use this facility for shading temperately, however, or the flatness essential to decorative work is lost

The foregoing is a rough list of stitches which could be copiously supplemented, but that I am obliged to pass on to another important point, that of design. If needlework is to be looked upon seriously, it is necessary to secure appropriate and practicable designs. Where the worker does not invent for herself, she should at least interpret her designer, just as the designer interprets and does not attempt to imitate nature. It follows from this, that it is better to avoid using designs of artists who know nothing of the capacities of needlework, and design beautiful and intricate forms without reference to the execution, the result being unsatisfactory and incomplete. Regarding the design itself, broad bold lines should be chosen, and broad harmonious colour (which should be roughly planned before setting to work), with as much minute work, and stitches introducing play of colour, as befits the purpose of the work and humour of the worker; there should be no scratching, no indefiniteness of form or colour, no vagueness that allows the eye to puzzle over the design — beyond that indefinable sense of mystery which arrests the attention and withholds the full charm of the work for a moment, to unfold it to those who stop to give it more than a glance. But there are so many different stitches and so many different modes of setting to work, that it will soon be seen that these few hints do not apply to all of them. One method, for instance, consists of trusting entirely to design, and leaves colour out of account: white work on white linen, white on dark ground, or black or dark blue upon white. Again, some work depends more on magnificence of colour than on form, as, for example, the handsome Italian hangings of the seventeenth century, worked in floss-silk, on linen sometimes, and sometimes on a dusky open canvas which makes the silks gleam and glow like precious stones.

In thus slightly describing the methods chiefly used in embroidery, I do so principally from old examples, as modern embroidery, being a dilettante pastime, has little distinct character, and is, in its best points, usually imitative. Eastern work still retains the old professional skill, but beauty of colour is rapidly disappearing, and little attention is paid to durability of the dyes used. In speaking rather slightingly of modern needlework, I must add that its non-success is often due more to the use of poor materials than to want of skill in working. It is surely folly to waste time over work that looks shabby in a month. The worker should use judgment and thought to procure materials, not necessarily rich, but each good and genuine of its kind. Lastly, she should not be sparing of her own handiwork, for, while a slightly executed piece of work depends wholly on design, in one where the actual stitchery is more elaborate, but the design less masterly, the patience and thought lavished on it render it in a different way equally pleasing, and bring it more within the scope of the amateur.

 

 

©MAY MORRIS

 

 [for the article Full Rights Reserved ©Wikisource Website, May Morris]

 

Crafts – Stone and Wood Carving


Crafts – Stone and Wood Carving

07-Crafts - Stone and Wood Carving

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http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Arts_and_Crafts_Essays/Stone_and_Wood_Carving     ]

 

 

STONE AND WOOD CARVING

By Somers Clarke

 

The crafts of the stone and wood carver may fairly be taken in review at the same time, although they differ in themselves.

It is a misfortune that there should be so great a gulf as there is between the craftsman who is called, and considers himself to be properly called, “a sculptor” and his fellow-craftsman who is called “a carver.” In these days the “sculptor” is but too often a man who would think it a condescension to execute what, for want of a better name, we must call decorative work. In truth, the sculptor is the outcome of that entire separation which has come about between the love of beauty, once common in everyday life, and art, as it is now called — a thing degraded to the purposes of a toy, a mere ornament for the rich. The sculptor is trained to make these ornaments, things which have no relation to their surroundings, but which may be placed now in a drawing-room, now in a conservatory or a public square, alone and unsheltered. He is a child of the studio.

The result of this training is, he has lost all knowledge how to produce work of a decorative character. He understands nothing of design in a wide sense, but being able to model a figure with tolerable success he rests therewith content. Being designed, as it is, in the studio, his work is wanting in sympathy with its place, it is not a part of a complete conception.

Things were not so when sculpture and what, for want of a better term, we have called “stone and wood carving” were at their prime.

The Greek craftsman could produce both the great figure of the god, which stood alone as the central object in the temple, and (working in thorough sympathy with the architect) the decorative sculpture of less importance which was attached to the building round about, and without which the beauty of the fabric was incomplete.

So also the great Florentine sculptors spent themselves with equal zeal on a door, the enclosure of a choir, a pulpit, or a tomb, which in those days meant not merely the effigy of the departed, but a complete design of many parts all full of beauty and skill.

In the great days of Mediæval Art sculpture played a part of the highest importance. The works then produced are not only excellent in themselves, but are so designed as to form a part of the building they adorn. How thoroughly unfinished would be the west front of the Cathedral at Wells, or the portals of Amiens or Reims, without their sculpture.

How rarely can we feel this sense of satisfaction, of unity of result, between the work of the sculptor and the architect in our buildings of to-day. The figures are “stood about” like ornaments on the mantelpiece. The architect seems as unable to prepare for them as the sculptor to make them. We seldom see congruity even between the figure and the pedestal on which it stands.

The want of this extended sympathy leads to another ill result. Wood, stone, and metal, different as they are, are treated by the artist in much the same fashion. The original model in clay seems to stand behind everything. The “artist” makes the clay model; his subordinates work it out in one or another material. The result can only be unsatisfactory because the natural limitations fixed by the qualities of the different materials have been neglected, whereas they should stand forth prominently in the mind of the artist from the moment he first conceives his design.

Marble, stones — some hard, some soft, — terra cotta, metals, or wood, each demand a difference of treatment. For example, the fibrous nature of wood enables the craftsman to produce work which would fall to pieces at the first blow if executed in stone. The polished and varied surface of marble demands a treatment of surface and section of mouldings which in stone would seem tame and poor. Again, it must not be forgotten that most works in stone or marble are built up. They are composed of many blocks standing one on the other. With wood it is quite different. Used in thick pieces it splits; good wood-work is therefore framed together, the framing and intermediate panelling lending itself to the richest decoration; but anything in the design which suggests stone construction is obviously wrong. In short, wood must be treated as a material that is fibrous and tenacious, and in planks or slabs; stone or marble as of close, even texture, brittle and in blocks.

Consequent on these differences of texture, we find that the tools and method of handling them used by the wood-carver differ in many respects from those used by the worker in stone or marble. One material is scooped and cut out, the other is attacked by a constant repetition of blows.

In the history of Mediæval Art we find that the craft of the stone-carver was perfectly understood long before that of his brother craftsman in wood. Whilst the first had all through Europe attained great perfection in the thirteenth century, the second did not reach the same standard till the fifteenth, and with the classic revival it died out. Nothing displays more fully the adaptation of design and decoration to the material than much of the fifteenth-century stall-work in our English cathedrals. These could only be executed in wood; the design is suited to that material only; but when the Italian influence creeps in, the designs adopted are in fact suited to fine stone, marble, or alabaster, and not to wood.

Until the craftsman in stone and wood is more of an architect, and the architect more of a craftsman, we cannot hope for improvement.

 

 

©SOMERS CLARKE

 

 

 [for the article Full Rights Reserved ©Wikisource Website, Somers Clarke]

 

Crafts – Metal Work


Crafts – Metal Work

 

 06-Crafts - Metal Work

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http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Arts_and_Crafts_Essays/Metal_Work    ]

 

 

METAL WORK

By  W. A. S. Benson

In discussing the artistic aspect of metal work, we have to take into account the physical properties and appropriate treatment of the following metals: the precious metals, gold and silver; copper, both pure and alloyed with other metals, especially tin and zinc in various proportions to form the many kinds of brass and bronze; lead, with a group of alloys of which pewter is typical; and iron, in the three forms of cast iron, wrought iron, and steel. All these have been made to serve the purpose of the artist, and the manipulation of them, while presenting many differences in detail, presents certain broad characteristics in common which distinguish them from the raw material of other crafts. Whether they are found native in the metallic state as is usual in the case of gold, or combined with many other minerals in the form of ore as is more common with other metals, fire is the primal agency by which they are made available for our needs. The first stage in their manipulation is to melt and cast them into ingots of a size convenient to the purpose intended. Secondly, all these metals when pure, and many alloys, are in varying degree malleable and ductile, are, in fact, if sufficient force be applied, plastic. Hence arises the first broad division in the treatment of metals. The fluid metal may, by the use of suitable moulds, be cast at once to the shape required, or the casting may be treated merely as the starting-point for a whole series of operations — forging, rolling, chipping, chasing, wire-drawing, and many more. Another property of the metals which must be noticed is, that not only can separate masses of metals be melted down and fused into one, but it is possible, under various conditions, of which the one invariably necessary is perfectly clean surfaces of contact, to unite separate portions of the same or different metals without fusion of the mass. For our present purpose the most important instance of this is the process of soldering, by which two surfaces are united by the application of sufficient heat to melt more fusible metal which is introduced between them, and which combines with both so as firmly to unite them on solidifying. Closely allied to this are the processes by which one metal is, for purposes of adornment or preservation from corrosion, coated with a thin film or deposit of another, usually more costly, metal.

Though hereafter electro-metallurgy may assert its claim to artistic originality as a third division, for the present all metal work, so far as its artistic aspect depends upon process, falls naturally into one of the two broad divisions of cast metal and wrought metal. Both have been employed from a time long anterior to written history; ornaments of beaten gold, and tools of cast bronze, are alike found among the relics of very early stages of civilisation, and in early stages both alike are artistic. The choice between the two processes is determined by such considerations as convenience of manufacture and the physical properties of the metals, and the different purposes in view. When a thick and comparatively massive shape is required, it is often easier to cast it at once. For thinner and lighter forms it is usually more convenient to treat the ingot or crude product of the furnace as mere raw material for a long series of workings under the hammer, or its patent mechanical equivalents, the rolling and pressing mills of modern mechanics. The choice is further influenced by the toughness generally characteristic of wrought metal, whereas the alloys which yield the cleanest castings are by no means universally the best in other respects. Iron is the extreme instance of this: ordinary cast iron being an impure form of the metal, which is too brittle to be worked under the hammer, but is readily cast into moulds, being fluid at a temperature which, though high, is easily obtained in a blast furnace. Wrought iron, however, which is usually obtained from cast iron by a process called puddling, whereby the impurities are burnt out, does not become fluid enough to pour into moulds; but on the other hand, pieces at a white heat can be united into a solid mass by skilful hammering, a process which is called welding, and, together with the fact that from its great hardness it is usually worked hot, is specially distinctive of the blacksmith’s craft. In no other metal is the separation between the two branches so wide as in iron. The misdirected skill of some modern iron-founders has caused the name of cast iron to be regarded as the very negative of art, and has even thrown suspicion on the process of casting itself as one of questionable honesty. Nevertheless, as a craft capable of giving final shape to metal, it has manifestly an artistic aspect, and, in fact, bronze statuary, a fine art pure and simple, is reproduced from the clay model merely by moulding and casting. We must therefore look for the artistic conditions in the preparation of the model or pattern, the impress of which in sand or loam forms the mould; the pattern may be carved in wood or modelled in clay, but the handling of the wood or clay is modified by the conditions under which the form is reproduced. And lastly, the finished object may either retain the surface formed as the metal solidifies, as in the case of the bronzes cast by the wax process, or the skin may be removed by the use of cutting tools, chisels and files and gravers, so that, as in the case of many of the better French bronzes, the finished work is strictly carved work. On the contrary, much silversmith’s work, as well as such simple objects as Chinese gongs and Indian “lotahs,” after being cast approximately to shape are finished by hammer work, that is, treated as plastic material with tools that force the material into shape instead of cutting the shape out of the mass by removing exterior portions of material. Attempts to imitate both processes by casting only, thus dispensing with the cost of finishing, are common, but as they dispense likewise with all beauty in the product, even if they do not substitute varnished and tinted zinc for better metal, their success is commercial only.

We have thus three characteristic kinds of surface resulting from the conditions of treatment, marking out three natural divisions of the art: and be it noted that questions of surface or texture are all-important in the arts; beauty is skin deep. First, the natural skin of the metal solidified in contact with the mould, and more or less closely imitative of the surface of the original model, usually for our purposes a plastic surface; secondly, there is carved, technically called chased, work; and thirdly, beaten or wrought work, which in ornament is termed embossing.

Superimposed on these we have the cross divisions of the crafts according to the special metal operated on, and in the existing industrial organisation the groups thus obtained have to be further divided into many sub-heads, according to the articles produced; and finally, another commercial distinction has to be drawn which greatly affects the present condition of handicraft, that is, the division of the several trades into craftsmen and salesmen. There can be no doubt that the extent of the existing dissociation of the producing craftsman from the consumer is an evil for the arts, and that the growing preponderance of great stores is inimical to excellence of workmanship. It is, perhaps, an advantage for the workman to be relieved from the office of salesman; the position of the village smith plying his calling in face of his customers might not suit every craft, but the services of the middleman are dearly bought at the price of artistic freedom. It is too often in the power of the middleman to dictate the quality of workmanship, too often his seeming interest to ordain that it shall be bad.

The choice of a metal for any particular purpose is determined by physical properties combined with considerations of cost. Iron, if only for its cheapness, is the material for the largest works of metal; while in the form of steel it is the best available material for many very small works, watch-springs for instance:it has the defect of liability to rust; the surfaces of other metals may tarnish, but iron rusts through. For the present only one application of cast iron concerns us — its use for grates and stoves. The point to remember is, that as the material has but little beauty, its employment should be restricted to the quantity prescribed by the demands of utility. Wrought iron, on the contrary, gives very great scope to the artist, and it offers this peculiar advantage, that the necessity of striking while the iron is hot enforces such free dexterity of handling in the ordinary smith, that he has comparatively little to learn if set to produce ornamental work, and thus renewed interest in the art has found craftsmen enough who could readily respond to the demand made upon them.

Copper, distinguished among metals by its glowing red tint, has as a material for artistic work been overshadowed by its alloys, brass and bronze; partly because they make sounder castings, partly it is to be feared from the approach of their colour to gold. Holding an intermediate position between iron and the precious metals, they are the material of innumerable household utensils and smaller architectural fittings.

Lead, tin, and zinc scarcely concern the artist to-day, though neither plumber nor pewterer has always been restricted to plain utilitarianism. Gold and silver have been distinguished in all ages as the precious metals, both for their comparative rarity and their freedom from corrosion, and their extreme beauty. They are both extremely malleable and very readily worked. Unhappily there is little original English work being done in these metals. The more ordinary wares have all life and feeling taken out of them by mechanical finish, an abrasive process being employed to remove every sign of tool-marks. The all-important surface is thus obliterated. As to design, fashion oscillates between copies of one past period and another. A comparison of one of these copies with an original will make the distinction between the work of a man paid to do his quickest and one paid to do his best clearer than volumes of description. Indeed, when all is said, a writer can but indicate the logic that underlies the craft, or hint at the relation which subsists between the process, the material, and the finished ware: the distinction between good and bad in art eludes definition; it is not an affair of reason, but of perception.

 

 

©W. A. S. BENSON

 

 [for the article Full Rights Reserved ©Wikisource Website, W. A. S. Benson]

 

Crafts – Textiles


Crafts – Textiles

 

 05-Crafts - Textiles

[ Source Info: 

http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Arts_and_Crafts_Essays/Textiles   ]

 

 

TEXTILES

By William Morris

There are several ways of ornamenting a woven cloth: (1) real tapestry, (2) carpet-weaving, (3) mechanical weaving, (4) printing or painting, and (5) embroidery. There has been no improvement (indeed, as to the main processes, no change) in the manufacture of the wares in all these branches since the fourteenth century, as far as the wares themselves are concerned; whatever improvements have been introduced have been purely commercial, and have had to do merely with reducing the cost of production; nay, more, the commercial improvements have on the whole been decidedly injurious to the quality of the wares themselves.

The noblest of the weaving arts is Tapestry, in which there is nothing mechanical: it may be looked upon as a mosaic of pieces of colour made up of dyed threads, and is capable of producing wall ornament of any degree of elaboration within the proper limits of duly considered decorative work.

As in all wall-decoration, the first thing to be considered in the designing of Tapestry is the force, purity, and elegance of the silhouette of the objects represented, and nothing vague or indeterminate is admissible. But special excellences can be expected from it. Depth of tone, richness of colour, and exquisite gradation of tints are easily to be obtained in Tapestry; and it also demands that crispness and abundance of beautiful detail which was the especial characteristic of fully developed Mediæval Art. The style of even the best period of the Renaissance is wholly unfit for Tapestry: accordingly we find that Tapestry retained its Gothic character longer than any other of the pictorial arts. A comparison of the wall-hangings in the Great Hall at Hampton Court with those in the Solar or Drawing-room, will make this superiority of the earlier design for its purpose clear to any one not lacking in artistic perception: and the comparison is all the fairer, as both the Gothic tapestries of the Solar and the post-Gothic hangings of the Hall are pre-eminently good of their kinds. Not to go into a description of the process of weaving tapestry, which would be futile without illustrations, I may say that in contradistinction to mechanical weaving, the warp is quite hidden, with the result that the colours are as solid as they can be made in painting.

Carpet-weaving is somewhat of the nature of Tapestry: it also is wholly unmechanical, but its use as a floorcloth somewhat degrades it, especially in our northern or western countries, where people come out of the muddy streets into rooms without taking off their shoes. Carpet-weaving undoubtedly arose among peoples living a tent life, and for such a dwelling as a tent, carpets are the best possible ornaments.

Carpets form a mosaic of small squares of worsted, or hair, or silk threads, tied into a coarse canvas, which is made as the work progresses. Owing to the comparative coarseness of the work, the designs should always be very elementary in form, and suggestive merely of forms of leafage, flowers, beasts and birds, etc. The soft gradations of tint to which Tapestry lends itself are unfit for Carpet-weaving; beauty and variety of colour must be attained by harmonious juxtaposition or tints, bounded by judiciously chosen outlines; and the pattern should lie absolutely flat upon the ground. On the whole, in designing carpets the method of contrast is the best one to employ, and blue and red, quite frankly used, with white or very light outlines on a dark ground, and black or some very dark colour on a light ground, are the main colours on which the designer should depend.

In making the above remarks I have been thinking only of the genuine or hand-made carpets. The mechanically- made carpets of to-day must be looked upon as makeshifts for cheapness’ sake. Of these, the velvet pile and Brussels are simply coarse worsted velvets woven over wires like other velvet, and cut, in the case of the velvet pile; and Kidderminster carpets are stout cloths, in which abundance of warp (a warp to each weft) is used for the sake of wear and tear. The velvet carpets need the same kind o£ design as to colour and quality as the real carpets; only, as the colours are necessarily limited in number, and the pattern must repeat at certain distances, the design should be simpler and smaller than in a real carpet. A Kidderminster carpet calls for a small design in which the different planes, or plies, as they are called, are well interlocked.

Mechanical weaving has to repeat the pattern on the cloth within comparatively narrow limits; the number of colours also is limited in most cases to four or five. In most cloths so woven, therefore, the best plan seems to be to choose a pleasant ground colour and to superimpose a pattern mainly composed of either a lighter shade of that colour, or a colour in no very strong contrast to the ground; and then, if you are using several colours, to light up this general arrangement either with a more forcible outline, or by spots of stronger colour carefully disposed. Often the lighter shade on the darker suffices, and hardly calls for anything else: some very beautiful cloths are merely damasks, in which the warp and weft are of the same colour, but a different tone is obtained by the figure and the ground being woven with a longer or shorter twill: the tabby being tied by the warp very often, the satin much more rarely. In any case, the patterned webs produced by mechanical weaving, if the ornament is to be effective and worth the doing, require that same Gothic crispness and clearness of detail which has been spoken of before: the geometrical structure of the pattern, which is a necessity in all recurring patterns, should be boldly insisted upon, so as to draw the eye from accidental figures, which the recurrence of the pattern is apt to produce.

The meaningless stripes and spots and other tormentings of the simple twill of the web, which are so common in the woven ornament of the eighteenth century and in our own times, should be carefully avoided: all these things are the last resource of a jaded invention and a contempt of the simple and fresh beauty that comes of a sympathetic suggestion of natural forms: if the pattern be vigorously and firmly drawn with a true feeling for the beauty of line and silhouette, the play of light and shade on the material of the simple twill will give all the necessary variety. I invite my readers to make another comparison: to go to the South Kensington Museum and study the invaluable fragments of the stuffs of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries of Syrian and Sicilian manufacture, or the almost equally beautiful webs of Persian design, which are later in date, but instinct with the purest and best Eastern feeling; they may also note the splendid stuffs produced mostly in Italy in the later Middle Ages, which are unsurpassed for richness and effect of design, and when they have impressed their minds with the productions of this great historic school, let them contrast with them the work of the vile Pompadour period, passing by the early seventeenth century as a period of transition into corruption. They will then (if, once more, they have real artistic perception) see at once the difference between the results of irrepressible imagination and love of beauty, on the one hand, and, on the other, of restless and weary vacuity of mind, forced by the exigencies of fashion to do something or other to the innocent surface of the cloth in order to distinguish it in the market from other cloths; between the handiwork of the free craftsman doing as he pleased with his work, and the drudgery of the “operative” set to his task by the tradesman competing for the custom of a frivolous public, which had forgotten that there was such a thing as art.

The next method of ornamenting cloth is by painting it or printing on it with dyes. As to the painting of cloths with dyes by hand, which is no doubt a very old and widely practised art, it has now quite disappeared (modern society not being rich enough to pay the necessary price for such work), and its place has now been taken by printing by block or cylinder-machine. The remarks made on the design for mechanically woven cloths apply pretty much to these printed stuffs: only, in the first place, more play of delicate and pretty colour is possible, and more variety of colour also; and in the second, much more use can be made of hatching and dotting, which are obviously suitable to the method of block- printing. In the many-coloured printed cloths, frank red and blue are again the mainstays of the colour arrangement; these colours, softened by the paler shades of red, outlined with black and made more tender by the addition of yellow in small quantities, mostly forming part of brightish greens, make up the colouring of the old Persian prints, which carry the art as far as it can be carried.

It must be added that no textile ornament has suffered so much as cloth-printing from those above-mentioned commercial inventions. A hundred years ago the processes for printing on cloth differed little from those used by the Indians and Persians; and even up to within forty years ago they produced colours that were in themselves good enough, however inartistically they might be used. Then came one of the most wonderful and most useless of the inventions of modern Chemistry, that of the dyes made from coal-tar, producing a series of hideous colours, crude, livid — and cheap, — which every person of taste loathes, but which nevertheless we can by no means get rid of until we are able to struggle successfully against the doom of cheap and nasty which has overtaken us.

Last of the methods of ornamenting cloth comes Embroidery: of the design for which it must be said that one of its aims should be the exhibition of beautiful material. Furthermore, it is not worth doing unless it is either very copious and rich, or very delicate — or both. For such an art nothing patchy or scrappy, or half-starved, should be done: there is no excuse for doing anything which is not strikingly beautiful; and that more especially as the exuberance of beauty of the work of the East and of Mediæval Europe, and even of the time of the Renaissance, is at hand to reproach us. It may be well here to warn those occupied in Embroidery against the feeble imitations of Japanese art which are so disastrously common amongst us. The Japanese are admirable naturalists, wonderfully skilful draughtsmen, deft beyond all others in mere execution of whatever they take in hand; and also great masters of style within certain narrow limitations. But with all this, a Japanese design is absolutely worthless unless it is executed with Japanese skill. In truth, with all their brilliant qualities as handicraftsmen, which have so dazzled us, the Japanese have no architectural, and therefore no decorative, instinct. Their works of art are isolated and blankly individualistic, and in consequence, unless where they rise, as they sometimes do, to the dignity of a suggestion for a picture (always devoid of human interest), they remain mere wonderful toys, things quite outside the pale of the evolution of art, which, I repeat, cannot be carried on without the architectural sense that connects it with the history of mankind.

To conclude with some general remarks about designing for textiles: the aim should be to combine clearness of form and firmness of structure with the mystery which comes of abundance and richness of detail; and this is easier of attainment in woven goods than in flat painted decoration and paper-hangings; because in the former the stuffs usually hang in folds and the pattern is broken more or less, while in the latter it is spread out flat against the wall. Do not introduce any lines or objects which cannot be explained by the structure of the pattern; it is just this logical sequence of form, this growth which looks as if, under the circumstances, it could not have been otherwise, which prevents the eye wearying of the repetition of the pattern.

Never introduce any shading for the purpose of making an object look round; whatever shading you use should be used for explanation only, to show what you mean by such and such a piece of drawing; and even that you had better be sparing of.

Do not be afraid of large patterns; if properly designed they are more restful to the eye than small ones: on the whole, a pattern where the structure is large and the details much broken up is the most useful. Large patterns are not necessarily startling; this comes more of violent relief of the figure from the ground, or inharmonious colouring: beautiful and logical form relieved from the ground by well-managed contrast or gradation, and lying flat on the ground, will never weary the eye. Very small rooms, as well as very large ones, look best ornamented with large patterns, whatever you do with the middling-sized ones.

As final maxims: never forget the material you are working with, and try always to use it for doing what it can do best: if you feel yourself hampered by the material in which you are working, instead of being helped by it, you have so far not learned your business, any more than a would-be poet has, who complains of the hardship of writing in measure and rhyme. The special limitations of the material should be a pleasure to you, not a hindrance: a designer, therefore, should always thoroughly understand the processes of the special manufacture he is dealing with, or the result will be a mere tour de force. On the other hand, it is the pleasure in understanding the capabilities of a special material, and using them for suggesting (not imitating) natural beauty and incident, that gives the raison d’être of decorative art.

 

 

©WILLIAM MORRIS

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