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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 !

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.

Belinda 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, for allowing me to use the written information to accompany my images and make this post possible. Much appreciated.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Laura permalink
    May 19, 2021 8:44 pm

    I’ve always treasured an Oxfam card written by a friend in about 1974, when I was eight, featuring the daisy cow design in pink, green and orange! Luckily she was credited on the back, which led me here…thanks.

    • May 19, 2021 8:49 pm

      Lovely story Laura, glad you made it and you are welcome back anytime 😊🙏

  2. July 22, 2021 7:58 pm

    Loved the fanciful, joyful pictures. Pure delight!

  3. Lucy Cleary permalink
    December 27, 2021 7:19 am

    This is a wonderful article. I am a huge fan of Belinda Lyon. The picture of the doll collection on a blue cushion is actually mine. My mother bought and made up a number for me when they first come out in the 70s. I have managed to find most of the remaining dolls second hand. They are my most treasured possessions. Thankyou for providing this information, I am always trying to find out more, and appreciate you sharing your findings enormously. Lucy

    • December 27, 2021 8:17 pm

      Thank you Lucy, what a great collection you have. Her work really is wonderful.

  4. Elaine L Wise permalink
    February 26, 2022 7:26 pm

    Yes definitely get oxfam to bring back these designs.

  5. Hazel permalink
    February 7, 2023 3:26 pm

    Cinderella and Prince Charming pillow cases are still treasured and in use by my daughter, 50 years after my mum bought them for me

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