Women Designing

Marianne Straub (1909-1994)

An exhibition board showcasing Marianne StraubMarianne Straub was born in Amriswil, Switzerland. Treatment for tuberculosis meant that she spent much of her childhood in hospital, drawing, modelling with plasticine and, later, using a small loom. In 1928 she gained a place at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Zurich to study weaving. There she was taught handweaving techniques by Heinz Otto Hurlimann, who had trained at the Bauhaus. By her final year at art school, Straub had decided that she wished to become an industrial weaver, so that her work would be available to ‘ordinary people’.

For six months, in 1931-1932, she worked as a technician’s assistant at a mill in Amriswil. Then she applied for a course at Bradford Technical College in England. When she arrived at Bradford, staff were surprised to find that she was a woman, since they had formed the impression from correspondence with her, that she was a male student! Although there had previously been female students on the course, Marianne Straub was the only one at the time. She learnt a great deal about machinery and production and passed an examination which should have taken three years in nine months.

Straub returned to the study of handloom techniques when, in 1933, she spent nine months working at Gospels, in Ditchling, Sussex, the studio of Ethel Mairet. A number of women who were influential in the development of English weaving also worked for periods at Gospels. They accompanied Ethel Mairet on regular trips to other parts of Europe, so there was much cross-fertilisation of ideas. In 1934 Straub took up a job as a consultant designer for the rural Industries Board, advising woollen mills in Wales. In 1938 she left to work for the tectile manufacturers, Helios, as head designer. Here, Straub produced both woven and printed fabrics. By the end of the Second World War, Helios fabrics were sold by over 40 firms, many of them supporters of modern design in Britain.

In 1947 Marianne Straub became managing director of Helios and when the firm was taken over by Warners in 1949, she remained as one of the chief designers. She represented the firm as a member of the Festival of Britain’s Festival Pattern Group in 1951 and worked on a number of prestigious commissions throughout the 1950s and 1960s. She retired from Warners in 1970, but continued her teaching at Hornsea and the Royal College of Art, begun in parallel with her design career, until 1974. In 1972 Straub was made a Royal Designer for Industry.


Image captions clockwise from the top
1. Marianne Straub surrounded by Helios Fabrics of 1947-49.
2. Marianne Straub while an art student in Zurich, about 1927.
3. Interior of ‘Gospels’, Ethel Mairet’s studio, about 1928.
4. Fabric samples woven at ‘Gospels’, 1933-4.
5. ‘Elgin’, cotton curtain fabric designed for Helios, 1938.
6. Furnishing tweed woven at Holywell Mill, Wales, 1936. This fabric was used as furniture upholstery by furniture makers Gordon Russell and Ernest Race.
7. ‘Goathland’, cotton curtain fabric designed for Helios, 1938. The sample shows alternative colourways.

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Sirpa Kutilainen • November 12, 2015

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