Business card of Hilary Bourne and Barbara Allen

Ditchling Museum present Double Weave: Bourne and Allen’s Modernist Textiles

This Autumn, Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft will be marking ten years since its major redevelopment. They are opening an exhibition about the museum’s co-founder Hilary Bourne (1909 – 2004) and Barbara Allen (1903 – 1972), her partner in life and creative practice. 

Running Sat 16 Sept – Sun 14 April this exhibition explores the work of the Ditchling museum duo.

They built an internationally successful textile studio, designing and making a variety of fabrics – which including tweed for Fortnum & Mason, furnishing fabric for Heals and scarves for Liberty’s. The turning point in their career came in 1951, when they won the competition to design and make curtains for the newly built Festival Hall. They went on to win commissions to make the costumes for the multi-Oscar winning 1959 film Ben-Hur and the interiors of the UK’s first jet planes.  

Cream & black wool jumper handknited by Hilary Bourne

In short, they were two of the most significant textile designers of the modernist period, yet they remain largely unknown – until now. The exhibition will give space to their story. It will speak to the invisibility of women as leading modernist designers, as well as how women’s intimacy informs creative pursuits, and it has been brought together by a series of curators. 

Curator, cultural producer and academic E-J Scott is spearheading the project, in a style reflective of the vast and vibrant women’s networks of the time.

E-J has assembled a collective of the country’s most inspiring fashion and textile historians to co-curate the show:  Jane Hattrick (dress historian), Shelley Tobin (textile curator and dress historian), Veronica Issac (course leader MA Fashion Curation at UAL), Jane Trais (women’s historian) and Susanne Rowland (costume historian).

Work by two contemporary artists will complement the exhibition. An immersive installation by textile artist Omeima Mudawi-Rowlings will greet visitors in the Introductory Gallery. The installation will feature textiles coloured with natural dyes using techniques pioneered by Bourne and Allen. It will explore her own experience as a Black Deaf artist with Sudanese heritage, using layering of text and images in English, BSL and Arabic. The experience of being seen and not seen, and of textiles often being dismissed as ‘domestic’ or ‘women’s work’ is part of this story.

Sussex-based weaver and dyer Poppy Fuller Abbott has created a collection of textile samples in the style of Bourne and Allen’s work which will be used as handling samples in Ditchling Museum. Visitors can also watch a film of Poppy at work on the loom.

“In this 10th year since the creation of Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft in its current form, it’s the perfect moment to celebrate Hilary Bourne our co-founder, and showcase the fantastic Modernist textiles she created with her partner Barbara Allen,” said Director, Steph Fuller. “This is a rare chance to see this work and discover their Modernist legacy, alongside a new textile installation by Omeima Mudawi-Rawlings which references their lives and techniques, bringing them into a new contemporary context.”

Sample of fabric woven by Hilary Bourne to be part of Charlton Heston’s costume in the film ‘Ben Hur’. From the collection of Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft

Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft is home to a permanent collection that showcases the work of artists and craftspeople living and working in Ditchling – a village which nurtured some of the 20th century’s most innovative and creative ideas in crafts and design. The museum presents two new exhibitions a year alongside the permanent collection. 

The museum’s Accredited collection includes the work of internationally renowned craftspeople including Eric Gill, Edward Johnston and Ethel Mairet. The collection tells the story of the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic, a collective of Catholic craftsmen who formed in Ditchling in 1920, and the other artists and craftspeople from the village. A thriving learning programme accompanies the exhibitions, offering a range of activities for all ages. The museum was also shortlisted for Museum of Year in 2014.

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