Embroiderer, craftswoman and socialist
Mary (May) Morris was born at Red House on 25th March 1862. Named Mary as her birth fell on the Feast of Annunciation.
As a child May loved the outdoors, said to favour flowers over people, and often getting into trouble for bringing home pebbles and making holes in her handkerchief.
" I am very untidy and always very dirty and sometimes I am ashamed to say very naughty."
May was surrounded by art from a young age, sitting as a model to her parents’ friends and studying needlework at school, as well as being taught by her mother Jane and Aunt Elizabeth.
In 1881 May enrolled in the National Art Training School, a precursor to the Royal College of Art, to study embroidery. It was soon apparent that she had a natural skill in needlecraft and by 1885, aged just 23 she became director of the embroidery department at Morris & Co.
Like her father May was a passionate socialist, joining the Social Democratic Federation in Hammersmith in 1884. May and her father later broke from the Federation establishing the Socialist League.
It was through the Socialist League that she met her husband Henry Halliday Sparling, who acted as secretary. Despite her mother’s concerns May married Henry in 1890 but only 4 years later the marriage broke down after May had an affair with former lover, playwright George Bernard Shaw. In 1898 May and Henry divorced and May resumed her maiden name.
May’s career in needlework continued to flourish; she left Morris & Co. becoming a freelance designer, embroiderer and teacher. She wrote articles on historical embroidery and acted as an advisor for colleges setting up embroidery courses.
In 1907 alongside Mary Elizabeth Turner, May set up the Women’s Guild of Art, as at this time the Art Worker’s Guild did not admit women. She continued to teach embroidery across the country from the Royal School of Art Needlework and LCC Central School of Art, as well as in Birmingham, Leicester and Hammersmith.
Embroidery was not her only skill, she is responsible for the wallpaper design ‘Honeysuckle’ and at the turn of the 20th century may began making jewellery.
" I'm a remarkable woman - always was, though none of you seemed to think so"
May settled in the village of Kelmscott with her companion Mary lobb from 1917 until her death in 1938 She continued to put her talents to use, commissioning two houses and a village hall and editing 24 volumes of her father’s ‘Collected Works’
Although often overshadowed by her father May made a tremendous contribution to the Arts & Crafts movement, and is still remembered as a skilled embroidery and craftswoman.