With tomorrow marking 20 years since the death of renowned textile designer Marianne Straub OBE, Richard Humphries reflects on his time working with her at New Mills, Braintree.
I recall with great affection the time I spent with Marianne during my career in the textile Industry.
In the February of 1966 whilst still fourteen years of age I attended my school work experience at Warner & Sons Ltd at New Mills, Braintree in Essex. There I met Marianne who was a woven textile designer for the company’s ranges. I helped with taking out pegs from lags from her discarded weave trials, and as we sat there together she began to pass on her wisdom of all her design experience. I was taken on at the mill and was to become the firm’s final design apprentice, as by 1971 the firm would close their manufacturing, ending one hundred years of silk weaving.
Marianne had her own design studio adjoining the main one under the direction of Frank Davies RCA. With her own set of equipment she worked independently and concentrated on mainly dobby structures. Her teaching of warp making and record keeping helped me appreciate the need to plan and record every aspect of a project from the yarn counts and their types, the dyestuffs and shades and the planned use of every thread in a cloth to be created. For her this meticulous record keeping was the basis for her success and her explanations of keeping warp and design numbers separate has been reflected in our systems today.
To watch her working was greatly inspiring as she would exhaust every last centimetre from the loom quickly exchanging one idea or weft for another.
Arriving in the early hours of a day she would require me to help get the warp set up for entering while she busily drove home the pegs on a fresh design. Some designs were hundreds of lags in length and often pegs would drop whilst weaving. My job was then to help in reading through her peg plans to rectify the faulty program.
Her designs filled many looms at New Mills with orders and the “Munster Cloth” design she created for upholstery ran on a set of four Hattesley over-pickers for almost my entire time at Warner’s, until the closure. “The Festival of Britain” in 1951 gave Marianne an opportunity to create new and exciting designs based on medical microscopic observations. Her design “Surrey” was chosen for the textile exhibition at the festival, and has recently been rewoven at Humphries Weaving.
During the late 1950’s her design “Norwich stripe” was chosen by Alec Hunter for the Morris dancers of Thaxted, Essex with whom he played an active role. Since then Humphries Weaving have twice re-woven the cloth to provide new dance costumes.
Marianne closed her studio at Warner’s in March 1971 when the mill finally ceased production, but some of her equipment lives on including a handful of her looms and her warping mill which remain in the Humphries design studio. Many of Marianne’s designs are retained in the Humphries Archive and show the breadth of her designs, textures and style.