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Ten Top Tips on How to Date Vintage Knitting Patterns
A Little Bit Of History
Vintage knitting patterns are a great source of inspiration to those of us with a yearning for a bygone time
Originally passed down from generation to generation with no written format the designs, patterns and often knitting techniques became unique to localized areas. Most of us will be aware of the intricate use of colour in the Fair Isles or the patterns and texture of knitting from Aran. The way the English knit is very different to the way they do so on the continent, needles are held differently and the wool put round the needles with different hands
Early magazines began including knitting patterns over two hundred years ago. At first there were great differences between written instructions, but as they became more popular the language became more standardized. Today most patterns are easy to read, even those from other countries as they use recognizable instructions.
Early knitting fashion changed very slowly but faster and better printing and publishing techniques changed this. This created faster change in all the fashion industry. You can now send an email with full colour photos all over the planet in seconds or upload content rich instructions to the internet for instant access. This modern technology also gives us access to a generous pool of vintage patterns.
Ten Top Tips to Dating Vintage Patterns
I have been an avid knitter since early childhood when my mother kept me and my brother amused pre-school and rainy school holidays with bits of wool. We began with miles of crochet chains wound into coloured balls. We played catch and skittles all over the house with them. After that came cork knitting and long scarves made from any thickness of wool. At junior school I knitted a bag with a Fair Isle type pattern using smaller and smaller size needles to get the shaping. In my teen years I knitted a forties twin set from old patterns in my mothers draw. This began my life long love affair with war-time knitting.
I inherited my mothers knitting patterns and have been adding to them ever since. Over the years I have become quite adept at dating them.
Here are my top ten tips on how to date vintage patterns.
Tip One - Word of Mouth
Elderly relatives are a good source of vintage knitting patterns and can tell you all kinds of facts about them. My mother knitted Fair Isle berets and gloves for the long gone Brown Muffs department store in Bradford. I still have the old typewriter written pattern she had used to make them. I still have the 1950's hat pattern she used to knit my hats, shown here. Even if your older relatives are not knitters they will be able to tell you something about the age of the pattern from the fashions in the pictures. Nothing says forties like a Fair Isle twin set or sixties like a poncho. It will give you a starting point and you do get better at it over time.
Tip Two - Colour
When Were Patterns Printed in Colour
Mono colour pattern, that's one colour and white but usually black and white were the norm until the later end of the fifties. Colour printing was expensive and not too good before then. Pictured is a black and white pattern from the forties. If your pattern is black and white it most probably date from before 1960.
Some knitting patterns from before the sixties had some colour added but not what we would know as colour printing. Backgrounds might be a colour or a single coloured band printed at the top or bottom with the company name on it. These first came on the market in the thirties but disappeared through the war years and for some time after until the lifting of restrictions on paper and printing in the early fifties. There are very few of these patterns after the war as better printing techniques had come into use by then.
Black and white patterns usually says before 1960
Black and white with a band of colour or a coloured background says 1930's
Tip Three - Size
Size Really Does Matter
Before World War Two the normal size for knitting patterns was about nine by seven inches, roughly the size most patterns are today.
Paper rationing and printing restrictions during the World War Two led to publishers creating smaller patterns with smaller text. There was also a change in paper and ink quality and many patterns of the time have a dull look to them. Two sizes were popular four and a half by seven inches, about the size of a postcard and six by eight inches, about A5 size. These were usually folded like a leaflet.
In the eighties patterns printed as a single sheet in A4 size became popular though you can still find a few new patterns printed in this size today.
Small knitting pattern are probably between 1939 and 1955
Large glossy A4 knitting patterns usually with the picture on one side and the instructions on the other suggest 1980 to 1995
Tip Four - Telephone Numbers
Five Digits, Six Digits and Dialing Codes
On the back of most knitting patterns printed you will find the publisher's and sometimes the printer's name and address, telephone number can be found on all patterns after 1975 and on a few before that date. You can glean clues to the age of the pattern from them as telephone numbers have changed overtime. Smaller towns and boroughs joined larger cities and adopted different area codes. Leeds, for example, became a six digit number in the eighties and adopted a new area code a decade or so later. You can date patterns printed or published in Leeds this way. Search for information about historic changes to telephone numbers on the internet.
In 1995 a one was added after the zero on all area codes. As this was a national change any pattern without the one is pre 1995.
Tip Five - Pricing
One Pence, Two Penny and L. S. D.
In 1971 the United Kingdom changed from Imperial currency to decimal currency. Decimal day was the 15th February 1971.
Imperial currency, old money, £. s. d. written 2d, 3d, 6d or 1/- and meaning twopence, threepence, sixpence and one shilling became obsolete and we began using decimal currency written 2p, 3p 6p and 12p.
Just for interest imperial currency was written £. s. d. but spoken L S D or pounds shillings and pence. Twopence was topence and threepence was threpence.
Patterns priced in Imperial currency are pre 1971.
Tip Six - Currency
Imperial and Decimal Currency
This is a quick short tip and related to tip five.
For a period before and after decimal day many patterns had the price printed in both Imperial currency and Decimal currency. This was from about 1965 until 1976. If £.s.d. is first then it dates from before 1971 as after this date pence is first.
Dual pricing with £.s.d. first says from 1965 to Feb 1971.
Dual pricing with pence first says Feb 1971 to 1976
Tip Seven - Postcodes
Map the Changes in Postcodes
Post codes introduced over a fifteen years period beginning in 1959 these can help in dating all kinds of items. Research on the internet to find when cities got their post codes. Businesses tended to adopt postcodes very quickly which makes them a good indication of age.
Publishers addresses and sometimes those of the printer are on the back of most knitting patterns. Use there postcodes to help you date knitting patterns
Tip Eight - Company Changes
Smith, Smith and Co, Smith and Sons
Printers and publishers change over time. Companies buy out smaller companies, sons join family businesses. If a publisher becomes Bloggs and Son then it's a sure bet it's later than just plain old Bloggs. They may have joined with other companies as in Patons and Baldwins.
You can search the internet for historic changes to companies. Find the dates companies merged or changed their addresses. Companies may have changed their names, Patons and Sons joined Baldwins and became Patons and Baldwins in the 1920's.
Tip Nine - Fashion and Style
Roaring Twenties or Love In Sixties
Taking a look at the picture on the pattern can tell you a lot. Nothing says forties like a fair isle twin set or sixties more than a poncho pattern. Look at the hair fashion and the other clothing worn. Take note of the way the pictures are photographed as these are also subject to the fashion of the time.
What the picture looks like can give you a starting point for more research and over time you get better at it and right more often.
Tip Ten - Advertising
Keep Your Eyes Peeled
Search for old advertising on the internet it will have the pricing included and a publication date. I once dated a pattern from a 1966 magazine that was advertising a pattern I owned as "out new" the following month.
Some knitting patterns had advertising for other knitting related products on them too, you can research the advertising for launch dates of these new products or discover when old ones disappeared. Things like Lux Soap Flakes
More About Vintage Knitting
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