It is the late 1920s and Phylis Barron has been asked by Detmar Blow, architectural advisor to the Duke of Westminster to visit him at his hunting lodge in Bordeaux. She has two suit cases full of long patterns suitable for curtains. On showing these to the Duke she is introduced to Coco Chanel and later recalls:
Mademoiselle Chanel, who was then living with him, was very interested. I think she thought I was a very queer sort of person – she couldn’t understand why I should want to do these strange thing. I was dressed as usual entirely in my own stuff, all made by myself, and I don’t think that she had ever in her life seen so much hand sewing, which she really quite appreciated. She thought the whole affair rather amazing, and ordered cushions for her Paris garden. Lovely folding sort of mattresses things, describing minutely how they were to be made.
Yet these pioneering women had something in common. They were modernists and the timelessness quality of their respective designs has outlived the years. In fact there always has been an appetite for a revival of the Barron and Larcher patterns. This appetite is being met by an exciting collaboration between the Crafts Study Centre, University for the Creative Arts (UCA), which holds a preeminent collection of their work, and Christopher Farr Cloth. The latter has breathed new life into 6 chosen designs by launching a range of screen-printed fabric this year. It will be a turning point for an understanding of the work of these little-known interwar textile artists.
During the 1920s and 30s Phyllis Barron (1890-1964) and Dorothy Larcher (1884-1952) were at the forefront of a revival in hand-block printing in the UK. In terms of the combination of quality, spontaneity of design, purity of color, and the sheer scale of output, Barron and Larcher were unrivalled. Importantly they were designer-makers, seeing the process through from the design stage to the finished piece.
To produce their patterns, they printed with blocks cut to their own designs into wood or linoleum and/or historic 19th century blocks sourced from France and Russia. The results are striking in their spontaneity and breathtaking in range since many were overprinted and the potential combinations were limitless. Whilst Barron favored geometric arrangements Larcher’s choice lent more towards naturalist forms. Their use of natural dyes whilst colorful was at the same time restrained, resulting in nuances and causing imperfections and tonal irregularities that add beauty to the designs.
Jean Vacher | Curator | Crafts Study Centre |University for thee Creative Arts | July 2016