Discovering Textiles - Barron and Larcher
Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher were successful businesswomen who worked with the likes of fashion designers and dukes.
Until the outbreak of World War Two, the two designed by experimentation, inventing and reinventing processes to make evocative printed textiles. A formal academic training in painting was invaluable to their practice, but it was antique wood blocks that started it all off. When Phyllis was fifteen, she and her sister went to France on a painting and sketching class run by Fred Mayer. Fred was a great collector and one day returned from the shops with a set of wood blocks to hang on a wall as decoration. Phyllis knew that these had been made by monks in Normandy but mistakenly thought that they were used for making wallpaper. They proved to be too small and so the sisters decided to try getting patterns from the blocks. After a few trials, not least to Mrs Mayer who had mistakenly put her baby on top of some of the experimental materials - oil paint and glass included - that had been left in the bath, the experiments had to wait until the pair returned home.
Back in England Phyllis set about try to get colour onto textiles by reading about the processes in Patent Office documents, continuing to experiment and trialling dyes through chemistry. Edward Bancroft's book, The Philosophy of Permanent Colour, sparked an interest in natural dyes and soon cutch, indigo and iron were part of the designer's repertoire, giving brown, blue and black. Using wartime materials like balloon cotton and linen prison sheets these formed the basis for more trials.
To cut a long, and fascinating, story short, it was the commission of material to outfit the Duke of Westminster's yacht that cemented a reputation for innovative design and craftsmanship. The commission also brought Dorothy in to help with the work, and Phyllis and Dorothy moved in together, living and workng as a couple for the next thirty years. They formed a partnership that was very successful, creating fabrics for Coco Chanel, Girton College, Cambridge and for Winchester Cathedral among other clients, and is recognised today as one of the most influential in the development of craft textiles.
The book celebrating the partnership's work and the reissue of the fabrics - Barron & Larcher, Textile Designers - is now in the studio collection and can be viewed by appointment.