Phyllis Barron & Dorothy Larcher 1930s

In 1932 Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher, by then well established as innovative hand block textile printers, secured one of their most prestigious commissions, the interior furnishings for a new wing at Girton College, Cambridge.

The three pairs of curtains which I purchased from the Fellows ”Fell “Dining Room at Girton, are I believe, the only known surviving curtains from any of Barron and Larcher’s interior commissions.

The design selected was “Winchester” reminiscent of a sixteenth century flamestitch pattern, which Barron and Larcher hand block printed as a discharge print. The natural linen was washed and submerged into an indigo vat which had ammonium carbonate added, an alkaline which induced the indigo reduction. When removed the cloth appeared dark green but on exposure to the air, quickly turned a rich dark blue. The wood blocks were hand carved and a bleaching agent applied in paste form to the face of the block. The block was manually pressed firmly down on the linen spread on large tables, the bleaching agent removing the dye in the areas printed. William Morris had previously revived the art of indigo discharge dyeing and printing for his chintzes in the 1870’s.

Of the three pairs of curtains one pair is very large at 25 ft wide with a drop of 10 foot 8 inches or 7.65 x 3.25 metres, the two smaller pairs are 18 foot 8 inches wide with a 5 foot 4 inches drop or 5.5 x 1.63 m. All had a herringbone weave tape, normally used for binding carpets, dyed red and applied to the outer edges. The pelmets were designed with the fabric turned 180 degrees, so the pattern appears upside down. The simple red tape applied to the shaped lower edge, is different from the curtain tape.

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