The Forgotten Pioneer…Alastair Morton and Edinburgh Weavers
Described as the ‘Forgotten Pioneer’, Alastair Morton (1910-1963) led Edinburgh Weavers to be one of the most innovative textile companies of the twentieth century. He was one of the first producers to use artists, painters and sculptors to create fabric patterns. Major figures such as Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Cecil Collins, as well as foreign artists such as Marino Marini, Victor Vasarely were commissioned to produce patterns. Other artist-designers that he collaborated with included Lucienne Day, Marion Dorn and Hans Tisdall.
In a new book about Edinburgh Weavers by Lesley Jackson she describes the scale of the achievement by Alastair Morton and his company. ‘The textiles produced by Edinburgh Weavers were innovative both technically and aesthetically: they pushed the medium to its limits. The subtle colours and textures of the original paintings or artwork were imaginatively transposed into cloth through the careful selection of appropriate yarns and dyes. The designs had to be scaled up into large repeats to make them suitable for architectural use. Looms were specially adapted to accommodate the giant full-width woven patterns. Fabrics were printed by hand using large screens on long printing tables. Cecil Collins’ Avon, specially commissioned for the British Embassy in Washington in 1960, exemplifies the extraordinary textiles associated with Edinburgh Weavers. One of the largest screen-printed fabrics ever produced, it incorporates drawings of eight Shakespearean characters on a grand scale with a pattern repeat of over 4.5 metres.’ (Pictured left design by William Scott and below design by Victor Vasarely)
Pictured below, cotton and rayon furnishing fabric called ‘Avis’ was designed by Marion Dorn (1896-1964) for Edinburgh Weavers about 1939. The pattern is made up of tesselating birds in flight.
Pictured below, design by Ben Nicholson for Edinburgh Weavers.
Pictured below, The Fisherman Fabric by Keith Vaughan, available as a teatowel from the V&A shop.
Pictured below, design by William Scott.
Morton painted as well, but was so busy with Edinburgh Weavers there is only a small body of accomplished work that he completed in his spare time. Fortunately for the textile industry he brought painting to fabric instead.
This work (above) was painted while Morton was in St Ives visiting Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth and is part of the National Galleries of Scotland collection.
Lesley Jackson is a writer, curator and design historian specializing in twentieth-century design. Her books include The New Look: Design in the Fifties (1991), ‘Contemporary’ Architecture and Interiors of the 1950s(1994), The Sixties: Decade of Design Revolution (1998), Robin and Lucienne Day (2001 / 2011) and 20th-Century Pattern Design (2002 / 2011).