18 June 2012

Map sampler: Festival of Britain 1951 (I)

In 1951, the Festival of Britain was staged.  To quote Wikipedia: " The Festival of Britain was a national exhibition in Britain in the summer of 1951. It was organised by the government to give Britons a feeling of recovery in the aftermath of war and to promote the British contribution to science, technology, industrial design, architecture and the arts." (source, also for the progam below).

And if you look at all the prewar patriotic embroideries, it's hardly suprising that there was an embroider sampler design relating to the Festival of Britain.  The first three pictures here show one example.  The colours are I think a trifle faded, perhaps through exposure to light.

Below are pictures of a second example.  Much brighter colours.  As the festival celebrated aspects of British life and culture, so do the images on the sampler.  From the top down: a deer/stag, and a bagpipe-playing Scotsman; a lute or harp; coming in from Ireland, an aeroplane; a ?dancer on a stage, and what looks like a circus tent; a Welsh lady playing a harp, the bust of William Shakespeare, a Beefeater and kettle drums with a music book; a roundabout/merry-go-round; a ?Cornishman with ?a squeezebox/small accordion; a sailor on a boat or barge; and a mermaid (or else a topless lady drowning and waving her knickers in the air to get the sailor's attention, which seems both unlikely and indecorous).  Also, of course, flags and around the Festival of Britain logo on the top right, the floral emblems of the British Isles; and bunting, echoing the design on the program pictured below.

And, you will notice, colour and lots of it.  More and more I think the Kent and Leicester county map samplers are likely pre-war.

This one seems very likely to have been a transfer design too.  How things have changed - few designs from the first fifty years were counted cross stitch, most were embroidery and based on samplers.  Most British patriotic designs now are counted work based on charts, whether cross stitch or tapestry/needlepoint.  Are we somehow more afraid of embroidery (the early designs didn't boast many complex stitches)? Were transfers, cheap to post, the easy way to transport designs then, while now counted charts can be downloaded from the internet or printed in magazines with no need to fiddle with stamps and envelopes?  Is there a preference now, for the exactitude of counted work, and perhaps a flavour of 'getting it right' or 'making exactly the same thing, because I like that sample' ?  I wonder.  I don't know.

A few more images of the second example:

Here is an image of a Festival program, to show you that stylised Britannia-head logo:

I wonder too about the form of this sampler being a map.  It's not just about showing the country, but also I think showing the country which resisted and prevailed in the very recent war, the country that was not invaded, close though they might have come.  Maps, after all, are essential to war and a matter for secrecy during war.  I've tagged this blog entry with wartime even though it's six years after, as the shadow of World War II is undoubtedly present in the reason for the Festival.  Rationing, for example, did not finally end until 1954.

I've seen several other versions of this design, so it must have been quite popular.  Which argues that it must have been in a wide-circulation newspaper or magazine, seen by many, chosen by a number of embroiderers to make in celebration.  It could have been a transfer, but a couple of examples I've been able to look at more closely seem to be on remarkably similar fine evenweave fabric, so I'm more likely to believe it was sold as a transfer already ironed onto fabric.

But I don't know.  If you do, please leave a comment with any useful information or links.

In light of the many coronation embroidery designs from 1937, and the many more coronation designs from 1953, only two years after the Festival of Britain, I find it interesting that at the moment, this is the only Festival of Britain design I've come across.  Was it a category-killer, catching the imagination? Were there few or no competitor designs?

Whatever the story (I wish I knew more), this is a particularly delightful British patriotic sampler, in my opinion.

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