Skip to content

Belinda Lyon Animal Vintage Tea Towels

June 1, 2020

There is an interesting story behind today’s post. I came across the work of Illustrator Belinda Lyon a while ago and set about trying to find out something about her past.. typically with a lot of people who worked between the 5o’s and the 80’s there is often ‘nothing’ to ‘very little’ anywhere.  Apart that is from one other post from 2016 by an artist, stylist, maker and collector of vintage items called Jacs Collins, who’s site Rural Retro is a treat in itself ! So I contacted Jacs to seek permission to use the information about Belinda for my post. She told me that her sister had read some of the Oxfam archieve at the Bodleian Library in Oxford (not usually available to the public) and afterwards managed to contact Belinda herself via email to obtain the story in person ! They kindly agreed to let me use their findings to bring the work of Berlinda to you today. So thank you for saying “Yes” 🙂

Belinda Lyon trained at a London art school and started her commercial career in advertising. Illustrators were in strong demand during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s and advertising was where many young graduates of the era started their careers.

Iconic illustrated adverts and posters the early 1960’s are now highly collected and many talented and now sadly anonymous illustrators started out in advertising before television and photography took over during the later “swinging 60’s”.

She started her commercial freelance career around 1965 with illustrations for short stories and books. Almost from the start of her career, her commissions were for books aimed at children and teenagers, featuring advice for young people, crafts, sewing and fashion. Some of the books and cut out dolls she illustrated in the first few years of her career are fantastic retro time capsules some 40+ years on.

Belinda is more well known to 1970’s retro fans for her lovely tea towel and fabric cut out designs which became part of the massive Oxfam retail success story. Belinda’s first design for Oxfam was a colourful Christmas card illustration in 1966. In 1967 Oxfam introduced their first “own brand” products consisting of the first two tea towels. The elephant and giraffe were initially produced in three colours and were selected for the London Design Centre – at this time still known as the Council for Industrial Design, prior to the opening of the Design Centre shop in 1971 which had people flocking in to buy the latest trend setting products. The first 2 Oxfam tea towels were produced in 3 different base colours.

The elephant and giraffe tea towels were an instant hit and new designs were added to the range each year with 20 different animals available in the series by 1979, most of which came in two different colours.  Oxfam were the very first UK charity to introduce a retail commercial model to their shops and as the number of shops grew so did their gift range. Belinda produced very popular designs for Oxfams successful retail gift range throughout the 1970’s and her work very much reflected the colours, trends and themes popular with children at the time.

Belinda produced over 60 designs for Christmas cards, tea towels etc…

… which continued to be sold in Oxfams shops into the 1980’s.

Other designs for Oxfam included cut out cushions, toys, and pillow cases.

The designs were printed onto a Tea Towel that could then be cut out, stuffed and hey presto, you had a children’s toy and a rather stylish cushion in one !

Belinda Lyon’s designs also appeared on tea towels sold by a few other companies during the 1970’s.

As a published children’s book illustrator, it seems a natural progression that Belinda Lyon went on to become a successful comic illustrator. Most of her later career during the 80’s and 90’s was spent illustrating for Twinkle comic, and lots of grown up girls will remember with fondness one of her most well known Twinkle comic characters – Jenny Wren.

Sadly, weekly comics started to decline during the 1990’s and Twinkle stopped production in 1999.

One of Belinda’s last commissions before she retired from commercial work was for a lovely children’s book by Nicola Baxter, which contains many of her highly detailed humorous illustrations. Belinda Lyon, like many other talented illustrators from her generation, has been mainly unknown for the last 20 years until the growing retro interest in the 1970’s and the current sewing craft revival has brought her designs and illustrations “back on trend” and her designs are a reference source for several of today’s retro inspired designers. Like the work of contemporary artist Sarah Young.

Berlinda had a wonderful eye for colour, pattern and texture, I can imagine these strong designs working well in kitchens even today. What do you think readers, should Oxfam revive these designs for today’s market ?

Many thanks to Jacs and her sister over at Rural Retro ( also on Instagram @ruralretro), for allowing me to use the written information to accompany my images and make this post possible. Much appreciated.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: