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13 November 2014

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You are in: South Yorkshire > History > Local History > The story of Painted Fabrics Ltd

The story of Painted Fabrics Ltd

Thousands of soldiers lost their limbs during WW1. One company 'Painted Fabrics' in Sheffield employed these injured ex-servicemen to create beautiful handcrafted materials that were then sold around the world.

A selection of Painted Fabric designs

A selection of Painted Fabric designs

Painted Fabrics Limited was started by Annie Bindon Carter in 1923.

During WW1 Annie volunteered her time at Wharncliffe War Hospital at Middlewood, Sheffield. She taught convalescent patients to stencil as a pastime.

Annie came across many injured servicemen who were being brought back from the trenches with limbs missing.

William Brookes was one of the many men sent to war. His son Des recalls what happened to him...

“My father was 19 years and 11 days old when he was in the Army and sent to fight in France. He’d only been there for six weeks when he was hit by a shell which had come over his trench. It took his left leg off below the knee. He didn’t remember a thing, until he woke up in a field hospital surrounded by people speaking French and German. His original wound was below the knee but gangrene had set in, so his whole leg had to removed.”

As part of the rehabilitation at Wharncliffe War Hospital Annie Bindon Carter developed the idea of tying paint brushes to the amputees' stumps. This enabled the injured ex-servicemen to stencil fabrics. Annie described this breakthrough: "It made a moral necessity to  turning 'Painted Fabrics' into a business."

Painted Fabrics

Men who felt their lives had ended found new hope for a better future.

Annie was born in Nottingham and was educated at the Ladies Moravian School in Oakbrook, Derby. From there she obtained a scholarship at the Sheffield School of Art, she was awarded for her mural decorations and her silver and textile designs (whilst working for several firms in Sheffield and London.)

Annie Bindon Carter describes the reasoning behind the company and the work offered to the injured servicemen.

"Painted Fabrics was started during the war as an endeavour to overcome inertia and nerve distress, caused by terrible tragedies, and the first case taken on seriously (meaning paid for his labour), was a case who had lost both hands...

"I think we are right in claiming that 'Painted Fabrics' employs a larger percentage of very seriously disabled men, (always excepting the blind) than any other ex-service mens' establishments....

"You will note that a man who has lost both hands cannot feed himself, dress himself, or get out of the room, but he can do painted fabrics."

:: Click here to see some of the artwork, photos and pieces designed by Painted Fabrics.

‘Work Not Charity’ was the bold motto of the company

In 1923 Annie Bindon Carter leased a disused Army camp at Norton Woodseats at Meadowhead. The former army huts were converted into workshops for screen and block printing, as well as areas for hand painting and stencilling designs.

Former Army camp at Norton Woodseats

Former Army camp at Norton Woodseats

The design of the patterns was undertaken by Annie’s sister Dorothy and friends Phyllis Lawton and Edith Jagger (who was the sister of artists Charles Sergeant Jagger and David Jagger). They all studied at Sheffield School of Art.

The camp was officially opened in 1925 by Princess Mary who became the company’s Royal Patron. Princess Mary often took part inPainted Fabrics sales across England’s high fashion stores including Claridges in London.

Not only was this ex-Army camp a workplace but a home in which a community developed. Huts were converted into homes, for employees and their families, living self-sufficiently, growing vegetables and keeping animals.

Taffy

"Thirty six men working at present with only 38 undamaged arms and 42 undamaged legs between them." One of the examples from the Painted Fabrics publicity leaflet written by Annie detailing the names of the men, their rank, regiment and their disability.

Taffy with Princess Mary

Taffy with Princess Mary

'Taffy' Llewellyn was one of the those men who received rehabilitation, housing and work after the WW1 at the company.

He had his left lower leg amputated and suffered gun wounds to his thigh. Taffy held the most war decorations of the men at Painted Fabrics, including the Military Medal, D.C.M and Croix-de-Guerre.

Taffy found employment and a home thanks to Annie Bindon Carter.

:: Listen to the BBC Radio 4 programme, made by Pennine Productions which was broadcast in 2003. Clare Jenkins looks back at the story of Painted Fabrics and speaks to people who were associated with the company.

Annie Bindon Carter

Annie Bindon Carter

Who was Annie?

In December 1930 The Sheffield Daily Telegraph wrote about Annie in the ‘Who’s Who in Sheffield’ section…

“It is difficult to write of Mrs. Carter without giving the history of Painted Fabrics, as she has been so closely associated with it. The greatness of the work has often over-shadowed the personality of its originator, who is one of the simplest and happiest of people. An instance of the fine effect that living for others has upon one’s own outlook.”

Annie was awarded an M.B.E in 1926 to recognise her work for disabled soldiers and sailors.

:: Click here to see some of the artwork, photos and pieces designed by Painted Fabrics.

Sales

Jennifer Murray is the great niece of Annie Bindon Carter and she offered her services at exhibitions and sales of the pieces produced.

Watercolour design

One of many watercolour designs

“There was a big sale at the Cutlers' Hall in Sheffield. The British actor Jack Buchanan came to open the sale. He looked around and decided to buy a Painted Fabrics dressing gown for his wife but he wanted to see what it looked like on so I had the honour of wearing it – he then bought it.”

The former Army huts produced luxurious clothing and hand-crafted pieces, from cushion covers to specially commissioned wedding dresses. Commercially they produced altar frontals and a variety of furnishings for private houses, including curtains for Princess Mary's Boudoir on her wedding day.

The products sold throughout the city of Sheffield, including at the Cutlers Hall and The Grand Hotel. Outside Sheffield, the garments sold throughout England, to well-known London stores Claridges and Liberty, gaining wider aclaim in Manchester, Harrogate and abroad.

The exhibitions

There were two main ways of selling goods. The less expensive items such as hankies and cushion covers were sold to the less wealthy at exhibitions, while the high range material was sold at people’s homes... Large hotel suites and places like Wentworth Woodhouse which held a sale every year.

WW2

Work at the camp at Norton Woodseats was suspended in 1939. The workshops were taken over for production of aircraft parts during WW2.

Each man has lost an arm and a leg and is still smiling

These men had one arm and one leg each

Painted Fabrics Limited resumed production in 1950, but never reached the scale it achieved when the company first opened in the 1920s partly because fashions were changing.

The life of Painted Fabrics started and ended in Sheffield, its first sale held at Wharncliffe Hospital in 1915 and the last at Cutlers' Hall Christmas in 1958.

The creator, Annie Bindon Carter died 10 years later.

:: You can view a display of 'Painted Fabric' pieces at Weston Park Museum, Sheffield in the 'Social History' section. More information can be found at the Sheffield Archives.

:: Click below to see some of the artwork, photos and pieces designed by Painted Fabrics and also listen to BBC Radio 4 programme which takes a look the company.

last updated: 05/01/2009 at 10:38
created: 05/11/2008

You are in: South Yorkshire > History > Local History > The story of Painted Fabrics Ltd

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