I grew up in the 1970s and 80s, and there is no question how strongly the styles of the era have influenced my tastes. I am drawn to the patterns, decorations, and arts of the time and captivated by the focus on ornamentation for ornamentation’s sake — from the interiors to ceramics, macrame, and all sorts of homemade arts and crafts. What I didn’t realize until recently, however, is that these quilts, wallpaper patterns, and macrame wall hangings of my youth were part of a bigger art and feminist movement: The Pattern and Decoration Movement, or P&D for short.
Captivated by the Art of Craft
When I was in the first grade, the Room Mothers were tasked with making each kid a frog-shaped bean bag as a start-of-the-year gift. It was assumed that the Room Mothers could sew, had the time to take on this project, and would be thrilled to do so. What else did a mother have to do? While some did jump at the task, my mother wasn’t interested one bit!
I am my mother’s 8th child, and by the time my sister and I came around, she had decidedly put her years of sewing and cooking behind her. While she hadn’t quite finished “raising” her last two children, her enthusiasm had waned to the extreme. On many occasions, our childhood care looked like benign neglect.
So, I was mesmerized the morning the Room Mothers showed up to class with those bean bag frogs. The massive, bedazzled floppy frogs sparkled under the classroom fluorescents, showing off their perfect craftsmanship. I had no idea that sort of craft was possible! Up until this point, I had only experienced store-bought goods and toys. This was a transformative moment for me. My fascination with handmade crafts was born.
While I fell in love with handmade decoration, I did not have the talent to craft anything of worth myself. (However, I am pretty good at baking and can even make frosting roses like a pro!) Rather than practicing the art hands-on, my love of craft leans toward inspiring it in others, decorating with it in my interiors, and working alongside makers to see a vision come to life. I am still captivated by what the craftspeople we work with can do — seemingly with so much ease!
The Pattern and Decoration Movement Explained
All of the 70s and 80s pattering and crafting of my youth has come back with a vengeance. I have been researching it and discovered that these cherished crafts I enjoyed were inspired by a larger art and feminist movement, The Pattern and Decoration Movement.
Pattern and Decoration, also known as P&D, took off in New York City between 1975 and 1985. SoHo gallery owner Holly Solomon is known for nurturing the movement, displaying the work of artists like Miriam Schapiro, who is best known for her “femmages,” feminist collages made up of rhinestones, handkerchiefs, and other textiles associated with domesticity and women’s work.
Rooted in feminist ideals, the movement sought to legitimize the decorative arts, taking inspiration from wallpaper, textiles, embroidery, and other forms of ornamentation. At the time, these art forms were looked down on in the male-dominated fine art world as “women’s crafts.” The movement set the stage for a renewed interest in heavily adorned patterns inspired by old-world designs from around the globe.
Up until the Pattern and Decoration Movement, the art world had been dominated by male figures, downcasting the work of female and non-Western artists and craftspeople as well as “decoration for decoration’s sake.” Russian author Leo Tolstoy wrote, “Real art, like the wife of an affectionate husband, needs no ornaments, but counterfeit art, like a prostitute, must always be decked out.” There was no subtlety in how the mainstream male art world felt towards a bit of ornamentation.
Key figures of the movement, American artists Valerie Jaudon and Joyce Kozloff, sought to understand how white male–centrism had shaped conceptions of good art. Together, they published “Art Hysterical Notions of Progress and Culture,” outlining the biases of the art world, which favored masculinity, sexism, and Western superiority. One claim they noted in their piece was by H. W. Janson, who asserted that applied arts are “of a lesser order than [fine] art, pure and simple.”
Male modernist artists of the prior decades saw decoration, ornamentation, femininity, and any form of real pleasure in art as unnecessary fluff. It was the goal of the Pattern and Decoration Movement to legitimize decorative ornamentation. Quilts, collages, and macrame had just as much right to hang in galleries! Largely, these artists succeeded in shifting perceptions through the decade.
Fighting for the Right to Decorate
For decades, centuries actually, the patriarchy has questioned the value of “feminine” craft. Our work has been labeled as too frivolous, too soft, too much. As an interior designer, many male (and even female) architects have questioned and condescended to me over the years because they didn’t see the value of celebrating pattern, decoration, and ornamentation in the design.
“Why do we need wallpaper here? Can’t we let the lines speak for themselves? Don’t you agree that minimalism is the best approach?”
To this, I say, what is wrong with you? Beautiful things, like patterns and decorations, celebrate the human spirit, our creativity, and the simple joy of being alive. Creating art is part of what makes us human. Who are we to judge the value an oil painting brings compared to a macrame frog? If it makes you happy and brings joy, then it has value as far as I’m concerned. The arts, alongside the crafts, are a celebration of humanity, connection, and creativity. I am thrilled that the feminine arts, traditional patterns, and over-the-top ornamentation are once again being celebrated in design!
Bring on the pattern and decoration!
Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.