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Double Weave: Bourne and Allen’s Modernist Textiles

Sat 16 September 2023 - Sun 14 April 2024

Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft mark ten years since our major redevelopment with an exhibition about the museum’s co-founder Hilary Bourne (1909 – 2004) and Barbara Allen (1903 – 1972), her partner in life and work.

The pair ran an internationally successful textile studio, designing and making a variety of fabrics – tweed for Fortnum & Mason, furnishing fabric for Heal’s and scarves for Liberty. The turning point in their career came in 1951, when they won the competition to design and make textiles 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.

In short, they were two of the most significant textile designers of the modernist period, yet they remain largely unknown – until now.

Double Weave gives space to their story. It speaks to the invisibility of women as leading modernist designers and how women’s intimacy informs creative pursuits.

High profile commissions undertaken by the pair are on display, such as the costumes from Ben-Hur and curtains designed for the Ceremonial Box at the Royal Festival Hall. Visitors can see Bourne and Allen’s innovative use of natural dyes for hand woven textiles, as well as examples of their early adoption of the metallic yarn, Lurex.

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 Traies (women’s historian) and Suzanne Rowland (costume historian).

Drawn to the Light (نور), an immersive installation by textile artist Omeima Mudawi-Rowlings MBE greets visitors in the Introductory Gallery. The installation features textiles coloured with natural dyes using techniques pioneered by Bourne and Allen, whilst exploring Mudawi-Rowling’s experience as a Black Deaf artist with Sudanese heritage. Text and images are layered in English, BSL and Arabic.

Sussex based weaver and dyer Poppy Fuller Abbott has created a collection of textile handling samples in the style of Bourne and Allen’s work. Visitors can also watch a film of Fuller Abbott at work on the loom and see a new commission by the weaver inspired by Bourne and Allen.

Made possible thanks to public funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England


  1. Double Weave. Photography by Tessa Hallmann
  2. Hilary Bourne, Barbara Allen and their dog, with thanks to Lucie Broadbent Smith
  3. Double Weave. Photography by Tessa Hallmann
  4. Drawn to the Light (نور). Photography by Tessa Hallmann

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