A war time knitting book,and an interview at Biba.

My freelance life began on a dining room table in my flat working on a makeshift drawing board propped upon a book. I was relieved not to have to travel two hours a day  To work anymore and it meant I had more time to cruise the local junk shops and jumble sales. As well as some clothing I found an old wartime knitting book and with the two Biba jackets it is the only thing I have clung onto from those days. It is called  ‘Knitting for all illustrated’ by Margaret Murray and Jane Koster and was published by Odhams Press Limited in 1941 I believe. It is not a rare book, there are quite a few available online and mine has a red cover with a gold design embossed on it,  but there is another version.

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The other book,  and there seem to be more of these than my version , have the same design on the front but with a pale beige  background. I was reading a description from this book recently and it had the same  knitting patterns inside except for one.  It describes a photo of a young Roger Moore ‘ modelling a useful polo- neck sweater and Fair Isle scarf and gloves.’ I scoured through my book but found no such photo or pattern and nothing seems to be missing or torn out, I would have remembered anyway I have had the book for over forty years I know every photo and illustration by heart. Still, its a bit of a mystery.The endpapers of the book are a real work of art, a beautiful repeat design of tiny knitted garments and there are many lovely watercolour illustrations throughout the book as well.

knit02 end_paper

Women knitted everything back then, stockings, bras and knickers, and even mens’ underwear. These were all knitted in silk if you could afford it, I imagine wool would have been a bit itchy.

knit04 knit03knit06

There is a section for children, mainly school wear , and babies clothes too. There is a large chapter called ‘ Re-making and making do. Wool was rationed during the war and became quite scarce so repairing garments and and reclaiming wool became an important skill. I used the idea of a little knitted 1940’s sweater for one of the pinups in the Biba mens’ colouring book a year later. I also used one of the photos for a drawing of a mans sweater for the Biba newspaper.


From the Biba newspaper.


From the Biba newspaper.

I really wanted to knit one of the little,  shapely, short sleeved sweaters from the book. They were right on trend throughout the 1970’s. I could knit but not shape or tackle necklines at that time. I finally got my mum to knit one for me. In the 1990’s I seriously took up knitting again,  patterns had improved a lot  and I started to knit mainly to help me to stop smoking. It worked, I highly recommend it. Now I cannot stop knitting.


Knitting girl 2013.

Back to the drawing board, I was taking my portfolio out to show people with some success. Petticoat magazine gave me work on a regular basis and I have to thank emmapeelpants and her wonderful 60’s and 70’s blog for including one of my Petticoat illustrations which I have reproduced here. I have not seen this drawing since the seventies because I used to discard and replace my work so much, something I regret now. looking at it now I can see the Biba style in its early form.


illustration for Petticoat magazine courtesy emmapeelpants blog.

Mick and I still networked with our friends from Leicester and I got work from some of them, I had friends from Radio Times magazine which used a lot of illustration. My friend Pete Laws worked on Car Magazine and also handled a ‘ teenyboppers’ magazine’ which I did a lot of illustrations for. I had to draw many caricatures of David Bowie and Marc Bolan for this magazine. Bowie was becoming really big at this time as Ziggy Stardust and Marc was hugely popular too.
I regularly bought New Musical Express and Melody maker for reference and to keep up with it all.
So things were working out well, I was actually handling more work than I had at Tempo Arts. I felt very lucky, there were many illustrators out there far better than me but there was also tons of work around for everybody. Looking for more was an ongoing task however, you could not be complacent.
We were still in touch with one of our tutors Adrienne LeMan from The London Illustrated News and met socially from time to time. One day she phoned me, she had heard from an ex student  of hers Chris Angell [ from Colchester College of Art ]. He was working for the Biba Design team Whitmore Thomas and they were looking for an illustrator to work on logos for the new Biba store. Adriene thought it might be right up my street and I should give them a call. I had not heard of plans for a new store and thought it sounded very exiting so I phoned Steve Thomas and arranged for an interview. Then panic set in, I looked through my portfolio and decide there needed to be a bit more ‘Biba’ style work and the night before my appointment I sat up into the small hours drawing all kinds of  images.
From North London to Westbourne Park where the Biba offices were was quite the journey, and when I got there I thought I was at the wrong place. The offices were in a grim grey looking warehouse, but the address was right there and a sign which said Biba offices. I pushed open the door and it was like walking into the Tardis, inside the reception was everything Biba crammed into a small space, carpets , sofas, wallpaper, potted plants. Everything was brown black and gold under soft glowing lighting. I sat on the sofa waiting for my interview and looked in awe at a beautiful, unmistakably original Art Deco statue of a girl holding huge hounds on real chains.

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