May Morris

May Morris

May Morris, 1909
Born (1862-03-25)25 March 1862
Died 17 October 1938(1938-10-17) (aged 76)
Nationality English
Occupation Embroidery designer
Known for Arts and Crafts movement
British Socialism

Mary "May" Morris (25 March 1862 – 17 October 1938) was an English artisan, embroidery designer, jeweller, socialist, and editor. She was the younger daughter of the Pre-Raphaelite artist and designer William Morris and his wife and artists' model Jane Morris.


May Morris, 1872, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

May Morris was born on 25 March 1862 at Red House, Bexleyheath, and named Mary, as she was born on the Feast of the Annunciation.[1] May learned to embroider from her mother and her aunt Bessie Burden, who had been taught by William Morris. In 1881, she enrolled at the National Art Training School, precursor of the Royal College of Art, to study embroidery[1][2] In 1885, aged 23, she became the Director of the Embroidery Department at her father's enterprise Morris & Co.

In 1886, May fell in love with Henry Halliday Sparling (1860–1924), Secretary of the Socialist League. Despite her mother's concerns about her future son-in-law, they married 14 June 1890 at Fulham Register Office.[1] The marriage broke down in 1894 as a result of her affair with a former lover, playwright George Bernard Shaw. The Sparlings were divorced in 1898, and May resumed her maiden name.[1][2]

In 1907, she founded the Women’s Guild of Arts with Mary Elizabeth Turner, as the Art Workers Guild did not admit women.[3]

She edited her father's Collected Works in 24 volumes for Longmans, Green and Company, published from 1910 to 1915, and, after his death, commissioned two houses to be built in the style that he loved in the village of Kelmscott in the Cotswolds.

May Morris died at Kelmscott Manor 17 October 1938.[4]


Embroidered Altar frontal, executed by May Morris from a design by Philip Webb.[5]

May Morris was an influential embroideress and designer, although her contributions are often overshadowed by those of her father, a towering figure in the Arts and Crafts movement. William Morris is credited with the resurrection of free-form embroidery in the style which would be termed art needlework. Art needlework emphasized freehand stitching and delicate shading in silk thread thought to encourage self-expression in the needleworker in sharp contrast with the brightly coloured Berlin wool work needlepoint and its "paint by numbers" aesthetic which had gripped much of home embroidery in the mid-19th century.

May Morris was active in the Royal School of Art Needlework (now Royal School of Needlework), founded as a charity in 1872 under the patronage of Princess Helena to maintain and develop the art of needlework through structured apprenticeships.


Morris also designed and made jewellery. She began to design jewellery around the turn of the 20th century, and was probably inspired by the Birmingham jewellers Arthur and Georgie Gaskin, who were old family friends.[6]



  1. 1 2 3 4 "The William Morris Internet Archive : Chronology". Retrieved 2008-08-24.
  2. 1 2 Naylor, p. 317
  3. Thomas, Zoe (June 2015). "'At Home with the Women's Guild of Arts: gender and professional identity in London studios, c. 1880-1925'". Women's History Review.
  4. "Miss May Morris (New York Times obituary)". The New York Times. 1938-10-18. Retrieved 2008-08-24.
  5. "The work is carried out with floss silk in bright colours and gold thread, both background and pattern being embroidered. The five crosses, that are placed at regular intervals between the vine leaves, are couched in gold passing upon a silvery silk ground." Christie, Grace (Mrs. Archibald H.): Embroidery and Tapestry Weaving, London, John Hogg, 1912; e-text at Project Gutenberg; notes to Plate XIII.


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