Needlecraft. Now there’s a topic I know next to nothing about. As children though, we sat around a table every Christmas with a tablecloth that had been decorated with colourful robins and holly by my maternal grandmother. She had been in one of the Dublin orphanages run by nuns where the girls were trained to make and repair linen for the city hotels and later worked as a seamstress for a tailor in Prescot, just outside Liverpool. Her fingers could do magic with a needle.
It was a world of tracing and transfers, often found free in magazines such as Needlewoman. Magazine formats like this were pioneered by Samuel Beeton – husband of cookery’s Mrs Beeton – with the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine from 1852. Beeton’s Book of Needlework was published in 1870 (though Isabella was just a brand name by then, having died five years earlier). The quality of work such magazines encouraged is superb, as I saw when leafing through copies of the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine at the V&A’s National Art Library when researching my forthcoming book on magazine design.
Needlewoman magazine was printed and published by Tillotsons in Mealhouse Lane in Bolton. The company also had an office at 23 Fleet Street in London, where it used an advertising agency, Sells Ltd. The magazine was probably an offshoot of the Bolton News group, certainly the paper was founded by the Tillotsons and based in Mealhouse Lane from 1860.
The illustration for the ‘Mother Christmas’ cover above is reminiscent of the work that would usually be seen on Vogue at the time, but is not credited. One of the projects inside, a fish-shaped bag, seems in contrast to Christmas theme cover, but provides a superb graphic spread with the same-size pattern (one half of the spread is shown here). This was the Art Deco era. How many of these bags were made up I wonder?
Needlewoman merged with Needlecraft Practical Journal to become Needlewoman and Needlecraft, which was published into the 1970s. Copies are regularly traded on eBay and at craft fairs. Craftylittlebugger is one of the many people inspired by such magazines, whose contents are finding a new lease of life. Her wartime copy of Needlecraft shows a ‘beautiful bit of bias binding’ that caught her attention. Her issue is just over A5 in size – half the page size of my 1925 issue because of wartime paper rationing – but, as Craftylittlebugger says, it ‘packs quite a punch’.
Magazines from Bolton are rare, but in the 1920s Lancashire was still at the heart of the cotton and spinning industry and there were big advertisers such as Clark’s whose marketing for ‘Anchor’ thread below would have been vital it keeping the magazine profitable. The Anchor thread brand is still going as part of the Coats group, which traces itself back 250 years to the Clark brothers and weavers in Paisley, Scotland. The wealth of Lancashire from the industrial revolution was on display this year at 2 Temple Place in the Cotton to Gold exhibition.
These crafts have made a huge comeback, and magazine publishers have spotted the trend. Hachette found itself in a ‘crochet part work hell’ a few years ago when it misjudged demand for its Art of Crochet part work. Copies of the Art of Crochet now sell on eBay for up to £5 each and individual patterns for £1. The century-old Woman’s Weekly has produced a Vintage View spin-off carrying past articles and Pretty Nostalgic is now in its fourth year of publication and has built up an industry around itself.
One of the Needlewoman articles carries the quote: ‘The thing of beauty is a joy forever’. How true.
Woman’s Weekly has been one of Britain’s most popular magazines for more than a century. The cover here is from a compilation magazine – Vintage View – of its past articles as owner Time UK exploits its archive. Although no signature is visible, it’s clearly by Lilian Hocknell, who was renowned for her illustrations of children in the art deco period leading up to the Second World War. You can even recognise the same cute toddler from this Mother cover of 1936:
Woman’s Weekly was originally published by Alfred Harmsworth’s Amalgamated Press (later rebranded as Fleetway), which was one of the three big groups that formed IPC in the 1960s and is today controlled by the US published Time Inc.
In its late 1950s heyday, Woman’s Weekly sold 1.5m copies a week and was one of IPC’s ‘big three’ women’s weeklies that ruled the roost in that market until the arrival of new niches in the 1980s, such as Best from Germany and the celebrity weeklies such as Hello and Heat. The other members of that vaunted trio are Woman (originally Odhams Press) and Woman’s Own (George Newnes). In 1959, they were massive money spinners, selling in total about 7 million copies a week between them. Then, both Woman (3.2m copies a week) and Woman’s Own (2.4m) outsold Woman’s Weekly (1.5m). Today, all have dropped sales but Woman’s Weekly has overtaken its rivals. The respective totals are 252,000, 220,000 and 307,000.
The Lady promotes itself as ‘England’s longest running weekly magazine for women’, having been in continuous publication since 1885 (DC Thomson’s People’s Friend out of Dundee holds the British record, dating from 1869 – in fact, it lays claim to being oldest women’s weekly magazine in the world). Furthermore, The Lady tells me, the magazine is ‘celebrated both for the quality of its editorial pages and its classified advertisements’ (it has long had the reputation as being the place to go to find a nanny). The Lady is ‘for elegant women with elegant minds’.
I was reading the issue above as I sat in the dentist this morning (no more Punch or Reader’s Digest). I was struck by the cover. Clearly, an illustration that has been lifted from a magazine dating from a century ago, when women had the time to line the walls of their houses with bowers of flowers, or at least inspired by one.
Then, blow me down, this afternoon I come across the original manifestation, for the racy French weekly Vie Parisienne. It’s been flipped, put through Photoshop with the colours hardened up and the artist’s monogram (GL – Georges Léonnec) removed, but it’s the same cover nevertheless. The cover line has also gone, Renouveau – renewal, in keeping with the Spring theme.
The issue dates from 1926, the days of Art Deco and Jazz. This was very much the heyday of Vie Parisienne, which was famed for its artistic pin-ups. It was founded in 1863, before even People’s Friend, but closed in about 1970. Although there is still a French title of that name, it’s now pornographic and bears no relation to the original. And, just as Le Charivari had inspired Punch, so Vie Parisienne inspired London Life.
There’s a long history of magazines using each others’ cover ideas, though what the stately readers of The Lady in 1926 would have thought of these men’s magazines does not bear thinking about.
One of the pleasures in writing a book about the history of magazines is discovering great talents that were household names a century or more ago but have since faded from the public gaze. One of those is Anne Harriet Fish. Miss Fish illustrated Tatler’s ‘Letters of Eve’ during the First World War and was 0ne of the most popular features of the magazine. The column started in May 1914 and was written by Olivia Maitland-Davidson with Anne Harriet Fish providing the drawings.
The witty, gossipy column of a society girl, like the rest of the magazine, had to alter its approach when Tatler suffered a considerable drop in sales at the outbreak of the war.
The Tatler was edited at the time by Edward Huskinson, himself a former cartoonist. He kept the magazine’s ‘light’ approach but aimed the humour at men in the armed forces and their families at home. The problem affected most publications – as demonstrated by circulation figures from the Financial Times, which saw its sales half during 1914, from an average of 15,000 a day to 7,000. Tatler‘s owner, Shorter, also owned the Sketch and another society weekly, the Bystander.
The Bystander changed its cover masthead to depict soldiers guarding the coast and then a man in uniform back at home in Blighty, rather than just society types sitting around chatting and reading.
Annie Fish’s unusual style created a ‘great vogue’ that was copied by designers of hats, coats and handkerchiefs; a play based a scene on a Fish drawing; a New Bond Street galley held an exhibition of her work; and a dozen short films used the drawings, with titles such as Eve Resolves to do War Work. The Eve illustrations were published as books, as were Maitland-Davidson’s columns.
The British Library lists 16 books written or illustrated by Fish, including Gilbert Frankau’s One of Us … With pictures by Fish (1917); The New Eve. Drawings by Fish written and designed by Fowl. Reproduced from … ‘The Tatler’ (1917); Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. Rendered into English verse by Edward Fitzgerald. With decorations by Fish (1922); Lipstick by Lady Vincent (1925); and All’s Well that Ends Swell. Auto suggestion for sensitive souls (1939).
Fish also worked for Vogue and did 30 covers portraying high society at play for Vanity Fair. These art deco style covers ran through the 1920s, depicting the bright young things, flappers and ballrooms full of elegantly dressed dancers in the Jazz Age.
In among the books above, Fish’s fame crossed the Atlantic, with a 1920 work of her drawings with text by American writers. It was published in New York with the title: High Society. The drawings by Fish. The prose precepts by Dorothy Parker, George S. Chappell, and Frank Crowninshiel. Condé Nast now owns both the Tatler and Vanity Fair.
One of the Condé Nast blogs by Shawn Waldron noted that the High Society book portrayed:
… a world populated by young-old matrons, astoundingly mature young girls, Victorian lady remnants, resplendent captains of industry, pussy-footing English butlers, amorous nursemaids, race touts, yearning young lovers, swanking soldiers, blank and vapid bores, bridge-playing parsons, and middle-class millionaires.
The blog also noted that the April 2010 issue of Vanity Fair carried a photograph of Hayley Bloomingdale, an American socialite, wearing a dress by designer Carolina Herrera portraying a print based on Fish’s drawings.
To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out for my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design