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About Vintage Knitting Patterns

Updated on November 15, 2017

Where to Find Vintage Knitting Patterns

  • Used book stores: Sometimes a treasure trove of old knitting books, magazines, and leaflets will turn up here. Check for an updated supply if you are able to visit a particular store frequently.
  • Antique malls and flea markets: Knitting books are often located with other shelved books in the craft category, and magazines and leaflets are sometimes priced separately and sold from boxes.
  • Libraries: A few years ago, I was lucky enough to find a collection of bound Vogue Knitting magazines from the 1960s at a library sale. The pages of the magazines were in nearly perfect condition. I have only encountered this once, but it may be more common in larger libraries than I have access to, so do check those book sales at your local library for knitting magazines as well as instructional books.
  • Online: A number of websites offer free vintage knitting patterns, as well as patterns for purchase. See below.

Cover of Vogue Knitting Magazine,  Spring-Summer 1965
Cover of Vogue Knitting Magazine, Spring-Summer 1965

Classic Vintage Style

I have often wondered why design didn't just stop in the 1960s. Architecture, furniture, clothing styles, etc., all represented a certain cool sophistication by then. It's a matter of personal taste, of course, and I do feel that some of the styles of the 1970s and 1980s were a lot of fun, but perhaps not as enduring. And while I enjoy vintage patterns dating from the 1940s and 1950s, there is just something about the classic simplicity and style of the 1960s designs that is most appealing to me.

Patterns from the 1970s often seem to feature a lot of long, straight, belted tunics, but a few gems can be found there too. My biggest complaint about 1980s patterns, specifically the sweaters, is that most of them were so voluminous, with sleeves nearly as wide as the body. It wasn't until the 1990s that trends began reverting to somewhat more minimalistic styles reminiscent of the 1960s.

Although I consider myself an experienced knitter, I don't always feel confident (or patient) enough to make major changes to a pattern, so I prefer to look for vintage patterns that can be worked mostly as written.

Cover Photo From Bernat Book No. 65, Bulky Knits Designed by Mirsa of Italy for Women and Men, 1958
Cover Photo From Bernat Book No. 65, Bulky Knits Designed by Mirsa of Italy for Women and Men, 1958
From Bernat Book No. 65, Bulky Knits Designed by Mirsa of Italy for Women and Men, 1958
From Bernat Book No. 65, Bulky Knits Designed by Mirsa of Italy for Women and Men, 1958

Casual classic designs from the 1950s and 1960s would not look out of place today.

Shells, Pattern Booklet No. 8813 for Fleisher, Bear Brand, and Botany Yarns, 1965
Shells, Pattern Booklet No. 8813 for Fleisher, Bear Brand, and Botany Yarns, 1965

Some Basics Never Really Go Out of Style!

Vintage Pattern Sources Online

Patterns for Sale

Vintage knitting books, magazines, and even downloadable patterns may be purchased from sellers on eBay, Etsy, and Amazon, as well as private websites.

Free Patterns

Purple Kitty Yarns

An excellent online source for free vintage knitting patterns and information is www.freevintageknitting.com by Purple Kitty.

Many vintage patterns are available on Purple Kitty's websites, including downloadable e-patterns and e-books from Leisure Arts, Coats & Clark, and others.

The Vintage Pattern Files

This UK blog offers vintage patterns from many different sources, grouped in categories and ranging from the 1800s through the 1970s.

Using and Interpreting Vintage Knitting Patterns

Several factors need to be considered when choosing a vintage knitting pattern. Depending upon the age of the pattern, any or all of the following discrepancies might exist:

Needle Size

When working with vintage knitting patterns, there is a possibility that needle sizes listed in the pattern will not correspond to modern knitting needle sizes of the same number. And of course, if the patterns were produced in the US, needle size will differ from metric and UK needle sizing guidelines, as well. Vintage needle size charts may be found elsewhere on Hubpages and other online sources. See below.

Garment Size

It may be difficult to determine the garment size for a given pattern, as those numbers have changed over the years as well. Here in the USA, a size 12 was once considered small, and is now generally listed as medium to large. See vintage sizing chart information below.

Gauge/Tension

Gauge (tension) was not always given in vintage patterns written for a specific yarn. If finished measurements are listed in a pattern, these can be used to calculate gauge based on stitch counts. Also, it can be helpful to research the vintage yarn specified in the pattern to determine its weight and type.

Specified Yarns

Finally, the yarns for which the vintage patterns were written are seldom likely to be available. Fortunately, many of these are searchable online with suitable needle sizes described as a guideline for yarn substitution.

Online Tools

Discontinued Yarn Charts

Some discontinued yarn charts are available here:

Knitting Needle Conversion Chart

Vintage Clothing Sizes

Even today, clothing sizes may differ according to manufacturer. Searching for vintage size comparison charts online will bring up a number of variations, and in the end they may be useful only as guidelines. As an illustration of the differences, here are examples of a few standard US women's sizes from approximately 60 years ago compared to some from today:

Women's Size Comparisons

Size
12
14
16
Bust
34
36
38
Waist
25
26
28
Hip
35
37
39
Sizes from the 1950s (US)
Size
4-6
8-10
12-14
Bust
34-35
36-37
38.5-40
Waist
26-27
28-29
30.5-32
Hip
36-37
38-39
40.5-42
Current Sizes (US)

Example Knit From Vintage Pattern

I used a pattern sheet from the 1950s to knit this top-down raglan cardigan
I used a pattern sheet from the 1950s to knit this top-down raglan cardigan

In Conclusion

Things have certainly changed since I completed my first knitting project more than 50 years ago with Red Heart yarn and Susan Bates needles purchased at a Woolworth's store. Now I have access to exotic fibers and needles from all over the world (budget permitting) and more patterns than I will ever need; however, I am still drawn to the wonderful old patterns available out there from a wide range of sources. If you haven't tried vintage knitting yet, I hope you will be encouraged to do so. If you have, please feel free to share your thoughts.

Vintage Knitting Polls

Do you use vintage knitting patterns?

See results

What is your favorite era for vintage knitting patterns?

See results

Comments

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    • susieq52 profile image

      Susan Sullenberger 

      13 months ago from Lakeland

      I have many vintage knitting books, mostly afghans, capes and sweaters. They're not really the style I like but I do use some of them.

    working

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