RefNoMD7882
TitlePainted Fabrics Limited, Sheffield
AdminHistoryThe establishment of Painted Fabrics Limited owed much to Annie Bindon Carter (1883-1969) who, in 1915, volunteered to help at the Wharncliffe War Hospital at Middlewood, Sheffield. She organised painting classes as a form of occupational therapy for soldiers who had suffered physical and psychological injuries (including amputations) during the First World War.

At the end of the war Mrs Carter obtained premises at West Bar, Sheffield which were converted and equipped as workshops for a few men, with financial help from local people. After a visit from Earl Haig, the authorities realised the possibilities of employment for severely disabled ex-servicemen that the enterprise presented. In 1923, land and hutments at the old WAAC (Women's Auxiliary Army Corps) camp at Norton Woodseats, Sheffield were purchased by the United Services Fund and leased to the newly formed company Painted Fabrics Limited. Some of the huts became workshops, while others were converted to homes for some of the men and their wives and families.

Painted Fabrics was officially opened in 1925 by Princess Mary (the Princess Royal) who became the company's Royal Patron. This was the first of several visits she and other members of the Royal Family made, and on this occasion she was presented with one of the painted shawls by two of the men - Taffy Llewellyn, who had the most war decorations, and Mr Hardy, who had the longest service with Painted Fabrics.

In 1928 ten houses in a two storey block were built as Haig Memorial Homes on the site of some of the huts, designed by the Sheffield architect Robert Cawkwell in association with G. Grey Wornum, partner of Louis de Soissons and architect of the RIBA building in London. However, Painted Fabrics was not entirely self-contained and some of the men lived elsewhere and the children attended local schools.

The men acquired a wide range of new skills very different from their pre-war occupations. Although hand stencilling using paints remained a mainstay of production, screen printing, block printing and spray painting with dyes were also used. The men did most of the stitching, using specially adapted sewing machines, although some of their wives and daughters were also employed as seamstresses under the direction of a professional dress-maker who did the cutting out. The design of the patterns and clothes was undertaken by Mrs Carter, assisted by her sister Dorothy and by Edith Jagger (the sister of Charles Sergeant Jagger the sculptor and David Jagger the painter). All of them had studied at Sheffield School of Art. Edith had been among those who helped at the Wharncliffe War Hospital, where she had volunteered to help men who were subject to fits as a result of head wounds, working with them locked in a padded room. After 1918 she was employed as a designer at Painted Fabrics.

Some of the dresses, which included bridal wear, were specially commissioned, as were altar frontals and other fabrics for churches, work for theatrical productions, and a wide variety of furnishings for private houses. Curtains which were silver on one side and purple on the other were made for the Long Gallery at Wentworth Woodhouse, for example, and the society portrait painter De Laszlo ordered Painted Fabrics' hangings for his studio. Apart from individual commissions some of the work was sold through a limited range of retail outlets, including the London store Liberty and shops in Manchester, Harrogate and other selected towns both at home and abroad which had sole agencies.

The main way of selling goods, however, was through exhibitions. These were of two types; firstly those held in Town or public halls where some of the men would help local volunteers to sell items. Although these were labour intensive and quite expensive to organise they were felt to be an effective way of reaching large numbers of ordinary people and selling the less expensive items such as scarves and cushion covers. The first exhibition was held at the Wharncliffe Hospital in 1915, and the last one at the Cutlers' Hall in Sheffield at Christmas 1958; in the intervening years hundreds were held up and down the country as well as abroad.

The second type of exhibition was the 'at homes' held by the aristocratic ladies Mrs Carter had so successfully recruited as supporters. Some of these were held in their own houses - Countess Fitzwilliam (Painted Fabrics' 'fairy godmother') held one every year at Wentworth Woodhouse - others were held in suites in large hotels. The Princess Royal regularly attended and even served behind the counter herself.

Mrs Carter's motto for Painted Fabrics was 'Work not Charity'.

Painted Fabrics' work was suspended from 1939, the workshops being taken over for the production of aircraft parts during the war and then for a variety of light industrial uses. Fabric production had resumed by 1950 but never again reached the scale achieved in the 1920s and 1930s. Though some men injured in the Second World War were taken on, those who had fought in the 1914-1918 war were growing old, as were Mrs Carter and the company's pre-war supporters and clients. At the same time fashions were changing, and in 1958 the decision was taken to wind the company up. The archives were subsequently presented to Sheffield City Libraries together with some examples of the work produced.
DescriptionPapers and photographs of lady whose mother's uncle worked at Painted Fabrics, including: Photographs of visits of Princess Royal and Duchess of York/Queen Mother, 1920s-1930s; Programme of opening ceremony by H.R.H. Princess Mary (Viscountess Lascelles) of Painted Fabrics Ltd, Chesterfield Road, Woodseats, 8 Aug 1925; Photocopy of 'The Sasmatian' newsletter (published by SASMA and Painted Fabrics Ltd), [Jul 1932]; Correspondence about Painted Fabrics exhibition, Nov 1994 - Feb 1995; Letter and invitation to unveiling of 75th anniversary plaque, 2000.
Date1920s - 2000
Extent8 items
AccessStatusOpen
LevelCollection
RelatedMaterialFor the main collection of Painted Fabrics see collection ref. PF
CustodialHistoryThese items were donated to Sheffield Archives by a private individual in November 2005.
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