Petal Power

Working Life

'COMPETENT DESIGNER WANTED. For high-class printed and woven fabrics. Ladies need not apply' This advertisement placed by the Silver Studio in the Daily Telegraph in 1899 illustrates that even at the turn of the twentieth century there was resistance to women's involvement in professional textile design. After 1912, women at the Silver Studio began to achieve significant victories by being employed as staff designers and in seeing their work for sale in the drapery departments of leading department stores. Yet, the evidence of their working life suggests that in some respects, their position remained marginalized from the mainstream design profession, both in the type of work they were offered and in their working conditions and wages. When the manufacturer Franklin and Franklin wrote to Rex in 1928 requesting that his designers sign their work, Rex's response was to ask Winifred Mold to design a monogram of his own initials (RMS) to use as a printed signature on Silver Studio designs.
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  • Design for a dress silk, Madeleine Lawrence, 1934 (SD2930)

    Drawing a design was a highly skilled, sometimes mathematical process which required knowledge of textile printing processes and understanding of the colour limitations of textile dyes. Drawing a design in several colourways involved a laborious process of tracing, re-copying and re-colouring - a repetitive task which in factory studios was delegated to apprentice or learner designers. At the Silver Studio women designers did their own re-colouring.

  • Silver Studio timecard for Madeleine Lawrence, 1935

    Madeleine Lawrence joined the Silver Studio in 1918. Like Winifred Mold, she worked from home. This timecard shows that she worked a six-day week, earning less than two pounds for forty-eight hours of work. Letters from Rex Silver suggest that some of her designs were even produced speculatively, without promise of any remuneration

  • Design for a dress print, Madeleine Lawrence, 1933 (SD2814.1)

    Madeleine Lawrence successfully produced many small-scale floral dress designs which sold to leading dress silk manufacturers. Yet, Rex Silver's criticism of her work was sometimes harsh. A 1928 letter from him asked her to stop 'swamping' him with patterns too 'severe and stiff' and to instead send more designs of the 'simple and graceful type

  • Design for a printed voile, Madeleine Lawrence, 1932 (SD2749)

    This pattern, with its fashionable dark-turquoise pre-dyed ground, required only three printing rollers to produce. An alternative version with green leaves and two-coloured flowers required four printing rollers and therefore would have been a more expensive fabric to produce and buy

  • Design for ‘kiddies towellings’, Madeleine Lawrence, 1937 (SD6861

    In the 1920s and 1930s, in addition to floral patterns, figurative patterns such as children's nursery prints were felt to be the natural domain of women designers. The Silver Studio's Winfred Mold and Madeleine Lawrence both drew many designs for children's dress fabrics. Dutch figures were a popular motif for children’s fabrics and wallpapers from the turn of the twentieth century. This design shows the process of trialling colours using tracing paper over a pencilled design fully sketched out in repeat.

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