The papers of Susan Bosence

Scope and Content

The papers of Susan Bosence, including personal documents and correspondence; technical material including dye notes and recipes; documents and photographs relating to exhibitions of Bosence's work, 1961-1991; order books and accounts; photographs and slides of work by SB and others; manuscripts and lecture notes; and press cuttings and articles.

Administrative / Biographical History

Susan Bosence was born Thelma Susan Payne in Luton, Bedfordshire, on 18th April 1913. She worked at the New Education Fellowship in London, moving to the post of secretary to W.B. Curry, the headmaster of Dartington Hall School in Devon in 1939. She married Wilfred Bosence, a teacher at Dartington, in 1942. Whilst raising a family at Dartington she began, without formal training, to produce printed and dyed fabrics for domestic use.

Bosence's introduction to block printed textiles was through the Elmhirsts, who owned the Dartington estate and who had examples of Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher's work from the 1920s and 1930s. She visited Barron and Larcher's home in 1951 and Barron encouraged and advised her when she first started working with textiles, becoming Barron's only 'student'. Block printing developed gradually using lino-printed patterns. Her designs were developed from close observation of landscape and nature or were purely abstract, often incorporating spots or stripes. Many early experiments focused on resist-dyeing, combining wax and stitch-resists on cotton. Her favourite dyes included indigo and rust.

In the 1960s Bosence planned and opened a dyehouse and classroom for teaching at the Adult Education Centre, Shinner's Bridge, Dartington. Here she ran classes and also carried out her own work in collaboration with Annette Kok. In 1966 she moved to a converted barn in Devon where she continued to develop experiments with natural and synthetic dyes. An exhibition at the Ceylon Tea Centre, in 1961, of dyed and patterned cottons, linens and silks brought numerous private commissions and part-time teaching jobs at art colleges, including the new Diploma AD course in Textiles at Camberwell School of Art, London and West Surrey Institute of Art and Design in Farnham.

This pattern of life continued for fifteen years, until the late 1970s when she began to work alone, apart from preparation for exhibitions when she would have assistance from Heather Williams and others.

In 1992 a fire caused by a collision with the van carrying back her work from an exhibition organised by Plymouth Arts Centre tragically destroyed much of her life's work. However, with her assistance, Anne Hinkins, she was able to reassemble many examples of her work to form the handbook housed today at the Crafts Study Centre. She continued working and exhibiting until the early 1990s.

In 1985 Hand Block Printing and Resist Dyeing was published by David & Charles. She was awarded an MBE. She died in Sigford, Devon, on 16th February 1996.


The archive material is arranged in the original order in which it was deposited at the CSC.

  • BOS/11 Personalia: personal documents; correspondence
  • BOS/2 Written works: manuscripts and typescripts; book reviews; lecture and teaching notes
  • BOS/3 Workshop: orders and accounts; dye notes and recipe books; general
  • BOS/4 Exhibitions: Ceylon Tea Centre, London, 1961; Crafts Study Centre, Bath, 1981-82; Henry Thomas Gallery, Dyfed, 1982; Costume Gallery, Totnes with Paula Morel, 1983; Dartington Gallery with Lucy Goffin, 1987; 'Gladrags', 1988; Plymouth Arts Centre, 'Work in Progress', 1991; exhibitions general
  • BOS/5 Miscellaneous: newspaper cuttings; printed work - periodicals; general material retained by SB
  • BOS/6 Photographs and slides: exhibitions; workshops; general

Access Information

Archive material may be viewed by appointment only.


This entry was compiled by Becky Lyle, Submissions Officer for the project and by Jean Vacher, Collections Manager at the Crafts Study Centre, c.2004. The biography was written by Frances Lord.

Other Finding Aids

A pdf handlist is available on request.

Conditions Governing Use

Written permission must be sought before any archival material is published.

Appraisal Information

None timetabled.


None expected.


Selected bibliography

Colour into Cloth , exhibition catalogue, Crafts Council, 1984

Obituary by Deryn O'Connor, Crafts Magazine , May/June 1996, issue no 140

Powers, Alan, 'Sources of Inspiration', Crafts Magazine , March/April 1993, issue no 121