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Karen Morton

MA work

Democratisation of Design: From Velvet to Moquette – Design changes in London Underground upholstery 1930–1950 and the impact on sensory experience

Key Research Questions:

How did moquette contribute to the sensory experience of passengers on the London Underground in the years 1930–1950?

What does this history of moquette reveal about the democratisation of design in mid-twentieth century Britain?

This research was prompted by an abiding interest in the sensory qualities of textiles. Textiles serve many purposes from the everyday to the ceremonial; woven pile textiles of different fibres are utilised in a range of products from towels to velvet robes. Moquette has a unique pile surface: a combination of cut ends as seen in velvet and loops as in towelling. This creates tactile and visual qualities with a durability suitable for transport upholstery. At the turn of the twentieth century textiles in the cars (carriages) of the Underground were used to differentiate between first, second and third class. A textile once used only in first-class and latterly throughout the tube, moquette is the focus of this dissertation’s investigation into the sensory experience of textiles and the democratisation of design on London Underground. If moquette had not been the upholstery of choice on the tube, it is possible that this unique textile would be lost to public experience. A history of the Underground and designs from the years prior to the research period provide a context for the design changes which took place. The archive box in the show features examples of research and tactile textile samples developed in response to the research.


  • MA Degree


    School of Arts & Humanities


    MA History of Design, 2018

  • Karen is a textiles specialist. Her practice reflects her History of Design research exploring human interaction with textiles and the symbiosis of techniques from diverse historical and cultural perspectives. Advocating the power of kinaesthetic learning, she teaches textile design and technology within various contexts and is interested in developing public engagement with objects and processes.  She exhibits with Carousel, a London-based textiles group.

  • Degrees

  • BA (Hons) Textiles/Fashion, Central St Martin’s, London
  • Experience

  • Teaching:Textiles and Product Design AS/A2, GCSE Textiles and Graphic Products, Bishop of Rochester Academy, 2015
  • Exhibitions

  • Material Movement, Waterloo Action Centre Gallery, London, 2016; Inspired by: V&A, Morley Gallery, London, 2016; Tunnel Visions: A celebration of the City & South London Railway, Barbican Library Gallery, London, 2015; Blue Rider Centenary, Barbican Library Gallery, London, 2011