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Sunny delight

1935 Morton Sundour booklet by Ashley Havinden

Shelf Appeal is in danger of becoming the Ashley Havinden blog. Havinden’s name is all too frequently dotted around these pixel pages.

As summer draws to its sticky end (and goodbye to all that) this is a last hurrah for summery imagery. This booklet for Morton Sundour textiles, produced in 1935 to promote spring curtain fabrics, is a super ray of graphic sunshine.

Morton Sundour (with its offshoot Edinburgh Weavers) was a really interesting textile company. At the time this leaflet was issued – 1935 – both companies were under the direction of textile modernist / moderniser Alistair Morton. Their whole story is laid out in Lesley Jackson’s grand book Edinburgh Weavers. And this booklet (or rather the copy owned by the V&A) appears in there too.

Havinden had been employed in 1935 by Alistair Morton to rebrand Sundour and this smiling sunflower was his offer for their logo. Not long afterwards, Havinden was designing fabrics for Sundour, as he should. Havinden’s work is usually witty and very often contained witty hand lettering too. There is hardly a nod to actual fabric on this cover, just those wavy line and star ‘curtains’ down the sides. But then Havinden was a top dog at Crawfords advertising agency, who themselves were the top dog agency. They very often played with brand bending in their work, offering modern feel and humorous copy over explicit product placement. Most of their output was what you might call clever clever, and mean it as a compliment.

Dress making

Vogue Pattern Book cover June / July 1957

Shelf Appeal often has dressmaking on the mind. Despite not sewing as much as I used to, I still love all sewing accouterment and any possible opportunity to use the word – or visit a – haberdashery. I watch the Great British Sewing Bee and wish it was me making the difficult Japanese skirt pattern. Those were always my favourite sewing projects, the Issey Miyake ones with twists and turns of seams to delight.

As the sun makes an appearance this summer (not as usual an occurrence as one might think) so dilemmas on dressing for just a few really hot days leave us wilting. To see this Vogue Pattern Book from June / July 1957, one would think dressing for the hot weather wasn’t an issue in the 1950s. This is a celebration of cotton dress dressing and of the status of dressmaking in former years. It is all so very classy.

The cover is a vision of summery style. What a corker of a dress. Gingham is ‘back’ this season but never quite as nicely back as in those 1950s cotton dresses: ‘To greet the summer – a pretty full-skirted dress with cool sleeveless bodice. Use lilac and white checked gingham by Barlow and Jones. From Harrods and Selfridges.’

Barlow and Jones was a Bolton textile manufacturer, so that’s an extra nice touch for the textile historians among us. This cover photo and the shoot inside are by Roger Prigent, a new (fashion photographer) name to me. As well as the cover shoot there are pages of lovely fashion illustrations in here: capri trousers, halterneck sun tops and even dressmaker hats, all drawn with an informal vigour.

It’s a lovely Vogue-ish bi-monthly publication, the pattern book. Pages on ‘Your Holiday Horizon’, ‘Delights of summer for the younger set’ or ‘Mrs Scarsdale advises on Fabric finishes.’ More extensively reported are ‘Delights of summer for Mrs Exeter – Vogue’s older woman.’ For Mrs Exeter ‘dresses play her lead’ at the Chelsea Flower Show and Wimbledon, whilst in relaxed countryside surroundings ‘she has discovered that shirts with denim slacks or shorts are invaluable for her favourite pastime of gardening.’

All of this just makes you want to crack out your sewing machine. Which is exactly the point.

Museum of Natural History

Maya Stepien Mammoth illustration


Shelf Appeal has a soft spot for illustrations of museums. Museum is my key word. I like old illustrations of museums. I like new illustrations of museums.

I just found these dinosaur / Museum of Natural History cuties by Dutch illustrator Maya Stepien. I was on one of my winding paths across the internet, looking at typography conferences I’ll never get to. I found an illustration of a type designer by Maya. I looked her up. And I like her work. A lot.

And then I saw Maya’s museum illustrations. And then I had to write a little bit more. She has on her website a nice set of prints called Nautical Geometry that are also most pleasing.

And some super portraits that make me want one of myself. For myself.

Before the wild things

Maurice Sendak exhibition catalogue 1975

Shelf Appeal likes an exhibition catalogue. Or two. Particularly those little catalogues it seems aren’t viable to produce much any more. Not at the big galleries and museums anyway. They make blockbuster catalogues in the same way they make blockbuster exhibitions. Size matters.

This little corker of a catalogue is for a Maurice Sendak exhibition in 1975 at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Having the guts to leave a cover without text and then using the illustration in a clever way, so that the wild thing looks to the title on the back cover, well, it’s just grand. And I love the fact that the chapter about Sendak’s early illustrations is called Before The Wild Things.

This was printed at The Bodley Head and was designed (along with the exhibition poster) by the then art director of The Bodley Head – John Ryder. The Foreword tells us Bodley were Mr Sendak’s publishers in England at the time. They still are, I think. Ryder had a long professional relationship with Sendak. And obviously he was one of those rare art directors who knew not mess with an illustration like that.

Maurice Sendak exhibition catalogue spread 1975

Cashmere classics

Wolsey twinset advert 1949


Spring is about looking at pretty things: flowers, budding trees, men’s ankles in Hoxton (that from a Tweet I was sent), brighter light on old buildings in London and lambs frisking in the countryside somewhere. So this post about a pretty picture from an issue of Woman’s Magazine April 1949. A Wolsey advert for a twinset in delicate powder blue cashmere, the cardigan with a nice nipped waist.

Growing up I was always thrilled to visit John Lewis in Sheffield, it was one of my favourite places. My father got fitted for suits there and I remember the brown leather topped chair I sat in to wait for him. And in an exotic corner of the womenswear department where my mother bought separates, they had a magnificent twinset display all hung together in a rainbow of colour options. Each cardigan had buttons in a matching colour.

I still equate a good offer in a shop with an item available in many different colours. Season after season. Fashion now sells fleeting styles coloured and cut to sell quickly and never return. Basics stocked year in year out are rather old fashioned and don’t suit the fast moving stock that retail demands now.

I like everything about this Wolsey advert (I confess to liking other Wolsey adverts too). The pale disappearing colours, the loose brush style of the illustration (Francis Marshall?), the Audrey updo, the paintings hanging hinted at in the background, the (almost) acid yellow striped chair and curtains. It couldn’t be a more gentle offer to sell us a new twinset to ward off the chill of an early Spring evening.

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