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Vintage Knitting Patterns

Updated on March 14, 2012

Retro Appeal

Vintage knitting patterns have become very popular in recent times, driven largely by a general yearning for all things retro and also because some of those old pattern books from the 30s, 40s and 50s contain some really great designs, whether you are into retro or not.

Back in the days when less women were in the worforce than at home, knitting was an extremely common pastime and many women made their own baby wear, shawls, standard sweaters, vests and cardigans for the family themselves. Wool was the preferred textile, for it's warmth and comfort - domestic knitting machines were scarce and synthetic fleece and 'tracksuit material' was but a futuristic idea.

As a result there liteally thousands of knitting patterns created to fulfill the needs of knitters. Many of these have been reproduced as book collections or individual patterns can be found on ebay and various websites.

Sweaters, Vests, Hats, Gloves and Cardigans Galore

There's so many wonderful vintage patterns out there, the biggest problem is deciding what to knit. However, if nothing else, it's an insight into our cultural history just to look through them to discover what was popular during particular eras.

Knitting is a very creative process and choosing the pattern as well as the type of wool, colour, trims and buttons, etc is all a part of that process. Experienced knitters can also adjust old patterns to give them a personalised slant - you can create your own fair-isle patterns using graph paper, change lengths, collars etc.

Make a turban hat, a beret, a chequered scarf or a pair of stripey socks - a hand-knitted item is something to be cherished.

Why Wool Is Wonderful

As a natural fibre, there are many benefits to wool and despite the fact that it has lost popularity due to the plethora of cheap synthetic fibres on the market, its quality still out rivals the competition, making it well worth the effort to create your own woollen garments.

Wool is warmer, softer, better looking and more durable than synthetic. In addition, it's a flame retardant, making it a safer winter option near heat sources, especially for children. It's also more waterproof and can absorb up to 30% of its weight without feeling heavy or damp, whereas lesser fibres will feel wetter much more quickly. A woollen garment is perfect insulation against winter chills.

Depending on the ply, wool can be thick or fine, allowing for a wide range of garment applications. The thicker the ply and the bigger the needles, the quicker it is to knit.

Stunning 1930s knitted evening dress
Stunning 1930s knitted evening dress

Learn to Knit

Knitting is a very relaxing pastime - not only does it calm the senses and soothe the jangled nerves but you get a real sense of accomplishment from having created a uniquely beautiful object that you can actually wear at the end of the project.

If you don't know how to knit, fear not...it's easy to learn the basics and you can increase your skills with practice. There is a whole world out there of fabulous knitted fashions to explore. Fortunately there are also plenty of how-to resources on the Internet and i've included a couple below to help you get started.

Learn to Knit

Knitting Help

1950s shawl with collar
1950s shawl with collar

Downloadable Patterns

Several websites, including Amazon, have vintage knitting patterns that be downloaded for less than $2.00

Store bought knits just don't have the same feel as a hand knitted article and it is getting harder to find good designs both ready made in the shops or in contemporary knitting books.

The versatile crescendo shawl at right and the saratoga sweater below left, are from the 1950s, when wide collars were in vogue.

Hand knitting really received a boost after the Second World War, as a far greater variety of yarns and colours became available. Plus it was the age of the twinset craze- a sweater and cardigan combined.

In the latter half of the 20th century the age old craft of knitting took a dive due to the flood of cheap imported machine made knits but more recently, there's been a knitting revival. This is partly because natural fibre has become easier to process and is thus cheaper but also because the Internet has proven to be a great facilitator for knitting enthusiasts to spread the word - patterns, tips and ideas are now shared cheaply and freely across the world.

Make a vintage jumper for Fido
Make a vintage jumper for Fido

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