Elizabeth Forster, Freelance Designer - Wendy

I thought you would be interested to read the following article that recently appeared in Slipknot, the magazine of the UK Knitting and Crochet Guild.

Barbara Smith has a knitting blog (http://barbaraknitsagain.blogspot.co.uk/) and she can be contacted at barbaraknitsagain at gmail.com.

Elizabeth Forster, Designer

Do you ever wonder who designed the thousands of unattributed knitting and crochet patterns that have appeared in magazines and spinners’ leaflets over the years?  Some were the work of freelance designers, and one of these was Elizabeth Forster, a remarkable woman who was a successful designer for several decades until the 1980s, and used the proceeds to fund her travels abroad.

When Elizabeth Forster began to design professionally in 1947, she already had a long-term career with the BBC, but in 1956, in her late 40s, she resigned from the BBC and became a full-time freelance designer.  From then on, she spent 9 months of the year designing, and three months every winter travelling - she was a keen bird-watcher.
She almost always travelled independently and on her own, often to South America and Asia.  She especially loved the Himalayas and trekked to Everest Base Camp in her 70s.  Her travels in turn provided the source for many of her designs.  A speciality was colour knitting using motifs inspired by things she had seen - textiles, buildings and so on.  The jacket illustrated was designed following a trip to Guatemala;  the motif represents a resplendent quetzal.  The sweater was based on llamas, flowers and Indians seen in Peru.  She was designing patterns into the 1980s, and died in 1995 at the age of 87.

Despite having no training in art or design, she was evidently very successful.  Her work appeared in many magazines such as Woman’s Weekly, Woman, and Woman and Home, and she designed for Wendy (Carter & Parker Ltd.) and other spinners.  But as far as I know, only one published pattern names her as the designer – all the others appeared anonymously.

Much of the above information comes from a travel book that she wrote in 1976, The Wandering Tattler, in which she outlines her design career.  After reading that book, which shows the two Wendy patterns illustrated, I thought that it would be very difficult to identify more of her work.  Fortunately, I was wrong.  She left an extensive collection of correspondence, scrapbooks, typed pattern instructions and other papers, and a large number of sample garments.  The archive has been kept by her friends, to whom she left her house, and they are beginning the task of recording and cataloguing it.  I visited them recently and a brief skim through the papers gave some fascinating insights into the relationships between freelance designers, spinners, and magazines in the period when Elizabeth Forster was working.  There is much more to discover.  It is sad to think that the work of many other designers has been forgotten and may now be unidentifiable.

Barbara Smith

Thank you to Barbara for kindly letting us use the above.  It is lovely to hear the influences that Elizabeth Forster gained through her travel which led on to design and is very evident in these two images.  She lived the life most designers would love, inspiration through travel.

Looking at our archives pattern 1280 sold 3,750 copies between January 1973 - March 1974.  And pattern 1288 sold 4,250 between January 1973 and March 1977.

The sweater in 1288 would be fabulous knitted now, so it just goes to show good design influences us for a long time.

No comments:

Post a Comment