Manchester Material Girls – International Women’s Day

Each day I walk through St Peter’s Square on route to our Manchester showroom, and it is there that I come across one of the newest landmarks to grace our city.  On Friday 14th December 2018 a bronze sculpture depicting Manchester born Emmeline Pankhurst. A leader of the suffragette movement was unveiled. The significance of the date was that it was exactly one hundred years since the first women in the UK voted in a general election. The fact that the statue should be one of Emmeline was public choice.

This morning ‘Emily’ as she is known to her friends, was adorned with a sash in her signature colours of green and purple with the powerful slogan ‘Rise up Women’. Her new attire is very fitting given that tomorrow is International Women’s Day, a focal point in the movement for women’s rights. 

Emily bronze international womens day

As the aim of International Women’s Day is to celebrate women’s achievements, this week we have been looking at the positive impact women have had in textiles – The original material girls.

Enid Marx

The chances are the majority of you have at some point come across the work of Enid Marx and, if you have, the likelihood is it gave you some degree of pleasure. You may not be able to put your finger on where you’ve seen it, but I bet you a large glass of pinot I can get to the bottom of it.

Marx once hailed as Britain’s ‘Queen of patterns’ was born in 1902 in London. Her artistic inclinations were fostered from a child and in 1922 she attended the Royal college of Art.  Unfortunately, she failed her final diploma assessment with her work being considered too ‘vulgar’ so she left RCA in 1925 without having obtained her degree and went to work for textile designers Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher.  Only two years later, she started her own workshop where she designed and produced block textiles. Often making use of naturally-derived dyes instead of new chemical methods. Although she is predominantly known for her textile and book design, she also designed wrapping paper, stamps, and Christmas cards.


Now back to that bet! 

Commuters on British buses and London tube trains have been paying a fitting tribute to Marx’s practical designs by simply sitting on them. In 1937 London Passenger Transport Board invited Enid to design the moquette seat fabrics that were to be used on their buses and trains. These seat fabrics were designed to very specific standards. With patterns meant to hide wear and tear but avoid the potentially nauseating effects of a pattern in motion. Four of Marx’s thirteen original designs are known to have been produced as a part of this redesign.  Including a “shield” pattern that was used in the London Underground for decades. Told you I’d get to the bottom of it.

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the London Underground, Transport for London collaborated with Kirkby Designs, one of the many fabric houses you can find in our showroom, to recreate a selection of these iconic designs.

Underground kirkby design


Although there have been, and continue to be, many great women designers, special recognition has to go to those who survived in an era when female printmakers were rarely trusted with the bank loans or investments that might have allowed them to set up their own design houses and instead has to work anonymously as freelancers. Marx was one of the lucky ones.

Through hard work and the confidence not to believe those who labelled her early work ‘vulgar’ Enid Marx went from Royal College of Art drop out in 1925 to them finally recognising her positive impact on the world we see around us by awarding her an honorary degree almost 60 years later.

Passionate for Pattern

Every Sofas & Stuff Design Consultant has a passion for pattern and love nothing more than introducing it to our showrooms.  So, if you want a completely eclectic mix of bold prints, colours, and textures, or prefer to dip your toe in the water with a fabulous accent chair or statement bed then our advice would be “Be more Enid and just go for it”. In the words of Art historian Dr Alan Powers. “We all respond to pattern, and we could really do with more of it around, but Enid Marx did it better than anyone I have come across.”

Interior inspiration international womens day

Our Manchester showroom proudly supports International Women’s Day. Book a design consultation or pop in to browse the new in Kirkby Design Transport collection and take home your free fabric samples.

by Suzi Power & Rachel Buckley