Festival of knitting

Festival of Britain knitting booklet

I have a deep and abiding affection for all things Festival of Britain. In fact, offer me time travel and I might well choose a visit back there. Where else could I see so much display, so many set designs, products and models by so many of my favourite mid-century commercial artists?

Despite there being a lot of things to collect from the FOB, the single thing that has made it on to my shelves is this Patons & Baldwins Knitting Book. Words can’t describe that fabulous cover design – but when did that ever stop me from waxing lyrical?

It was a comment by those Quad Royalists about the artist – Xenia – of a rather darn nice Come to Britain poster that made me remember this booklet. Xenia – a rather unusual and memorable name that. Doesn’t pop up much, although I know I have seen it somewhere..

A lot of too-ing and fro-ing on Google brings up only two possible Xenia’s – Xenia Noelle Lowinsky, sister (I think) of artist illustrator extraordinaire Thomas Lowinsky. She seems to have been a playwright. And composer John Cage’s sometime wife Xenia. She is listed as an artist and I found one image on a John Cage blog with her signature – very, very similar to the one on this booklet. But apart from this guesswork, the artist here remains an enigma.

But the booklet cover design stands up by itself: those knitted items as flags on top of the merry-go-round are just great. The whole illustration has movement; it leaps around in a happy way. And let’s face it, FOB and knitting is not an easy subject to pull off or give meaning to.

Inside the booklet the patterns are disappointingly prosaic but have great titles like ‘Heart of the Empire twin set’ and ‘Shades of Beau Nash matching waistcoats’.. All in all looking great yet with a slightly naff and nationalistic tone to the content. Just as we have come to expect from anything branded-up for the Festival.

10 Comments

  • It wasn’t Xenia Warrior Princess was it? (I’ll get my coat). The images links seem broken – or it it Safari browser not liking WordPress again?

  • shelf appeal says:

    Hello, the images were broken. My hosting service, the lacklustre and rubbish 123-Reg decided to tweak things and ended up breaking things, as usual. So, now the images are back, can I have a sensible, graphic-aware comment please?

  • Heather says:

    Jane, I am in KL without your email so excuse this non graphical post, LOVE! LOVE LOVE the Patons illustration. I have found the biggest Japanese bookshop outside Japan, I am going there for a long browse on Sunday, any magazines or perhaps books that you would like?

  • Crispin says:

    I too love the sheer flightiness of the stuff produced in the early fifties. The adverts and Punch cartoons and other stuff all had a touch of the explosively cheerful with English eccentricity – mind you Xenia is a Russian name I think so maybe that’s not entirely right!

    I have a photo of my Dad just after the war when he was at Oxford and there were a lot of people doing degrees who had served in the forces and his expression is full of fun and he seems very relaxed and happy – it must have been such a change after the war

    My ambition is to get a Rowland Emmet FOB Puffin book with a cut-out railway in it ………… but I need to win the lottery first

  • shelf appeal says:

    Yes, I am hopeful I’ll find one of the Emmet FoB books in 50p box in a charity shop! Hopefully before you do..

  • Mark says:

    Nice to see the back cover (which I’ve never seen) is as satisfying as the front; lovely cloud. There’s an often used contemporary photo of a woman wearing a short-sleeve sweater with the Abram Games FOB logo knitted into it that I always imagined came from this book. Do you not fancy modelling the Heart of Empire twin-set then?

    For the record my FOB fantasy items are a handpainted leisure shirt depicting various bits of FOB architecture (seen only in an advert and on film) and the Skylon biro in original packaging. The pertinent word in both cases being fantasy…

  • shelf appeal says:

    I think it is about time you started a blog, young man. I need to be able to follow all those enticing things you mention to a link and a tasty image or 3.

  • Ribambins says:

    You are right, it is much happier (and less boring) than you would expect from a knitting related brochure. Love it. Very fresh and naive.

  • Theo says:

    Coolest booklet cover I have ever seen – will have to look out for it in my thrift store rummaging.

    You got a lovely blog.

  • shelf appeal says:

    Why thank you kind crochet bloke.

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