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Vintage Knitting

Apr 6, 2012

"Vintage" is used all over the place these days. Maybe our busy, tech-filled lives make us long for the simplicity of the past. Although our foremothers had many different challenges than we did—can you imaging knitting by candlelight after being on your feet all day cooking from scratch without a microwave or a refrigerator? Not to mention the laundry issues!

Needlecraft Magazine was one of the first publications exclusively devoted to needlecraft trends and patterns. (Photo by Joe Coca.)
    
Anyway, for me vintage knitting patterns are special because I feel like I'm knitting items that have been knit hundreds of times before me, connecting me with the knitters of the past and, since Knitting Traditions is keeping these patterns alive, they're connecting me with knitters of the future, too.

The latest issue of Knitting Traditions celebrates the evolution of knitting magazines. Here's an excerpt:

Vintage Depositories

For some reason, Augusta, Maine, was a hotbed for publishing women's magazines in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. From 1909 until 1941, Needlecraft Magazine was one of these. Its pages were filled with knitting, crochet, tatting, and embroidery patterns along with fiction, advice, fashion trends, recipes, and an enviable number of advertisements, large and small, from national companies such as Campbell's Soup and J. & P. Coats Mercerized Cotton thread to classifieds for a variety of products and services.

Modern Priscilla-—a magazine of needlework, home crafts, and housekeeping—began publication in Lynn, Massachusetts, in 1887. The company subsequently moved to Boston and continued publishing the magazine until 1930. The pages of Modern Priscilla closely followed the Needlecraft model for content and advertising. Priscilla even included its own advertisements soliciting readers to sell subscriptions on commission.

—Jeane Hutchins, from Knitting Traditions, Spring 2012

    
Knitted Gloves for Brother Bill (Photo by Joe Coca)
The Spring 2012 issue of Knitting Traditions includes a collection of patterns from early Needlecraft Magazines. I'm drawn to the glove pattern, "Knitted Gloves for Brother Bill" (from the December 1920 issue of Needlecraft Magazine) because of the simple colorwork pattern and the interesting placement of the thumb and fingers. I wonder if the design gives the thumb more ease of movement; it seems to me like it would pull to the center, but I've got to trust all of the knitters who've come before me and knitted this design—it must be a good one!

The fingers of these knit gloves look like they overlap a little, which might be done for the same ease-of-motion reasons. I want to knit these just to try them on and see how they work!

Knitting old patterns can be a challenge because the terminology was so much different than it is today, and the sizes of yarn and needles, too, but it's really rewarding when you figure it out.

Here's an example from the glove pattern: "Materials required are seven double-twisted knots of knitting yarn, 20 threads to a knot, and one skein of contrasting color—brown and green were used for the model—with four steel needles, No. 13."

Huh? The vintage patterns in Knitting Traditions are printed exactly as they appeared in the original publications, but there's current yarn and needle information provided, too, thank goodness! What you'll need in current knitting terms is fingering-weight yarn and size 1 (2.25mm) needles.

Start knitting vintage with the spring 2012 issue of Knitting Traditions!

Cheers,

P.S. Do you have a vintage knitting story? Share it with me in the comments!


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mrs.twinkle wrote
on Apr 9, 2012 11:24 PM

Several years ago my husband worked as executive chef at an upscale retire facility.  The ladies there had a knitting group and requested that I come and help them organize it and work with them in getting things started.  As we worked around the tables and more and more ladies attended I was privilieged to meet some wonderful women.  

At 50 I was the "baby" of the group and they always teased me about my age.  I always had a different project on the go and most often they were socks for dear hubby who preferred hand knit socks.  One afternoon one of the ladies looked at me and asked what pattern I was using....I showed her the pattern and she shook her head, saying ``just wait here a minute``.....she left the room and returned 10minutes later handing me a little paper booklet, much used and well worn, dated 1945.  It was a pattern booklet put out by the Red Cross for knitting ``comfort items`` for our servicemen.  She told me she had used the same pattern during the war to knit socks and now it was to be passed to me.  It is the ONLY pattern I now use to knit socks for dear hubby and I would have to say the best I have ever used.  I always think of this dear lovely lady as I use this wonderful gift.

fpeets wrote
on Apr 8, 2012 12:45 PM

Mine is not so much a story but I am drawn to vintage knitting for some reason.  I love the simplicity and look of the designs and yarn choice to match.  I feel it is all so timeless, really.  I think too it must remind me of times spent with my mother as she taught me the basics of knitting so long ago.  It is a visual memory of sorts that draws me to this style.  Loved your article and the way you see things as you describe them to your readers.

reina wrote
on Apr 8, 2012 4:11 AM

At school, in the 1950's we all wore mittens, because fingergloves could not keep our fingers warm enough, those were a few winters os snowstorms and icecold constant windblows from the east. Bicycling exposes your fingers to the cold winds because your fingers are just at the exposed outside of the handlebars of your bike, we wore thus mittens. Always the thumbpart was on the inside of the palm. This was the matter with gloves too, and the pinky was started a little lower then the ring and pointingfinger, the middlefinger just a bit higher then the last two started. To me this is the way gloves and mittens should look. Touch the tip of your pinky to the tip of your thumb, look at the inside of your hand, it now matches the layout of the glove/mitten. A thumb at the side or almost side of the mitten would have come in very awkward when riding our bikes or clutching hands at our backsides when skating at a convenient speed. Maybe to bustravelers placement of the thumb at another place would be more convenient. We even sometimes managed to tie the leather straps of our oldfashion wooden skates (look up Frisian skates) with the mittens on, but nor when the straps had gotten wet and then frozen, oh, those tingling fingers, the speed of skating and the freedom you felt when skating the canals, ah well, getting older has other advantages.

meowkie wrote
on Apr 7, 2012 1:00 PM

I recently made a new friend at work. It turns out she lost her Mom 40 yrs ago. She had been an avid knitter. My new friend shared with me the vintage pattern of a Spinnerin Nantucket Afghan that her Mom used to do, with all her little notes written in. I completed one for myself. It is so beautiful that now my Mom has requested I make one for her, so I have started another. It is a very special project and kepps the giving spirit of my friend"s mom alive.

Rita

LyndaC wrote
on Apr 7, 2012 10:26 AM

Am I the only one who finds the Brother Bill glove a little . . . odd-looking? The thumb seems to be growing out of the center of the palm. What's up with that?

mleasum wrote
on Apr 6, 2012 4:22 PM

I love vintage patterns!  In fact, I have been researching patterns from World War I that knitters on the home front would have sent to soldiers and sailors as "comforts."  After all of my research, I have decided to start selling knitting kits that people can buy with the revised pattern(s) and modern equivalents of yarn and needles!  If you want, you can view my blog for more information: homefrontknitting.wordpress.com.  

on Apr 6, 2012 12:10 PM

Just took a look at the TOC....the knitted petticoat looks of interest. I'm hoping there's a pattern included...But looks like a great issue in any event.

Eileen@2 wrote
on Apr 6, 2012 12:09 PM

Nearly all the FOs I make that turn out to be keepers are either from a vintage pattern or vintage inspired pieces of my own. Classic looks and designs always appeal to me.

It's not difficult to knit these, really! If you read the old patterns often enough the terms become familiar. In fact, I read my copies of Needlecraft more often than modern pattern magazines. One problem: when there's an error, you can't (without the services of a good medium) contact the designer or publisher to get the corrections. :-)

I adore the cover art--many are frame-worthy, though I would copy them and frame the copy, rather than deface the magazine.

Lovely article, thanks for writing it!

Oh, if you'ew is on the lookout for more and don't require that the source be an actual old magazine or book, check out ivarose.com

NAYY. She copies old pattern booklets--from the Victorian era through the 1940s--and does a great job.

Lindy101 wrote
on Apr 6, 2012 9:01 AM

I am a quilter/fiber artist by day and wanna - be knitter by night.  I mostly 'lurk' but had to write and let you know how interesting I found this article. Thank you for a great start to my day!

Lindy101 wrote
on Apr 6, 2012 9:01 AM

I am a quilter/fiber artist by day and wanna - be knitter by night.  I mostly 'lurk' but had to write and let you know how interesting I found this article. Thank you for a great start to my day!

Sherylee wrote
on Apr 6, 2012 7:54 AM

I have  vintage knitting magazines from the 30's40's and early 50's. They were my grandmother's.  They are all in French,since she was Belgian. But I  would be glad to share if you have someone proficient enough in French and knitting to translate!

Scotindy wrote
on Apr 6, 2012 7:45 AM

Traditionally, a "Knot" of wool was fourty times around a Niddy Noddy or a weasel.  

At one time they were measured and regulated to be acurately two yards around.  

To keep them straight a Knot was tied at 80 yards.  

(A niddy noddy for linen was different and regulated to be one and a half yards around. )

A wool "knot" of 20 threads would be 40 yards, so seven of them would be 280 yards of yarn needed for these gloves, of doubled yarn.

Now we have niddy noddys of all lengths and sizes, so the tradition of even yardages in a "knot" would vary greatly.

Diana Stevens, Historical Spinner and reenactor of needlecrafts.