Fabric Design

Discover Hepworth's little known work in fabric design

Curtain 1 (with blue stripe) (1932-33) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

In the early 1930s Hepworth and Nicholson were exploring textile printing, which offered both commercial opportunities and new possibilities for artistic experimentation. Prints were created using blocks of linoleum and several of Hepworth’s designs were realised as furnishing fabrics and curtains.

'I’m absolutely bitten by this printing business, can’t get on with carving at all! I’ve just done one for 2 colours and tonight superimposed a third just for fun...'

~ Barbara Hepworth to Ben Nicolson, December 1932

Detail of Curtain 1 (with red stripe) (1932-33) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

Hepworth's designs show her beginning to embrace a more abstract geometric language, using strong horizontal and vertical lines and blocks of colour. Her designs share a visual language with those of Nicholson's, with both using similar motifs, such as the diamond.

Detail of Curtain 1 (with red stripe) (1932-33) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

A number of Hepworth's fabric designs were included in her 1933 exhibition with Nicholson at the Lefevre Gallery in London. Few of the hand printed fabrics now survive, although examples can be found in the collections of Manchester City Art Gallery, Kettle’s Yard and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

A page from Ben Nicholson’s photograph album of the 1930s. Private collection. by Ben NicholsonThe Hepworth Wakefield

In photographs of Hepworth and Nicholson's shared studio at The Mall Studios, Hampstead, fabrics share space with sculptures, paintings, plants and books as part of a philosophy that promoted the conjoining of art and life. 

'At the present moment we are building up a new mythology which is more easily understood when the things we care for are seen. Small things found and kept for their lovely shape, their weight, their texture and intense pure colour...'

'...A scarlet circle on the wall, a slender white bottle on a shelf near it, a bright blue box and lovely shaped fishing floats that rest in the hand like a bird, weighty pebbles, dull grey, some gleaming white, all these move about the room and as they are placed, make the room gay or serious or bright as a frosty morning and nearly always give a tremendous feeling of work […] the predisposition to carve is not enough, there  must be a positive living and moving towards an ideal.'

~ Barbara Hepworth, Statement in Unit 1: The Modern Movement in English Architecture, Painting and Sculpture, 1934

Pillar (1937) by Dame Barbara Hepworth, Edinburgh Weavers LtdThe Hepworth Wakefield

Hepworth's experiments in fabric printing can also be seen within a wider moment of interest in the relationship between art and industrial design, which had been promoted in the ideas of the Bauhaus. In 1937 Hepworth and Nicholson were commissioned to produce designs for a range of ‘Constructivist Fabrics’ issued by Edinburgh Weavers.

Proof for 'Landscape Sculpture' Ascher scarf design (1947) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

In 1947 Hepworth returned to fabric design when she was commissioned by Zika Ascher to design a scarf in their series of silk Ascher squares. 

Landscape Sculpture, 1944 (cast in 1961)The Hepworth Wakefield

Hepworth gave her design the title of Landscape Sculpture, the same title that she had used for a wooden carving made three years previously in 1944.

'Textile designing is more than patterning. Colour and form go hand in hand – brown fields and green hills cannot be divorced from the earth’s shape – a square becomes a triangle, a triangle a circle, a circle an oval by the continuous curve of folding: and we return, always, to the essential human form – the human form in landscape.' 

~ Text on Ascher scarf design, ‘Landscape Sculpture’, June 1947

Hepworth did not separate her work in textile design from that of her carving, instead seeing it as another media  in which to explore similar ideas.

Proof for 'Landscape Sculpture' Ascher scarf design (1947) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

The scarf translates aspects of the earlier carving into two-dimensional form. The use of stringing and the two pierced concavities are rendered anew through a circular latticed pattern enclosing two central motifs.

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