I have been knitting for over thirty-five years (yes, I started as a baby in diapers), but I’ve only recently learned how to find vintage knitting patterns. Though the recent popularity of knitting everything from bikinis to tablemats has new patterns popping up all over Pinterest and Ravelry, there’s something magical about finding a vintage knitting pattern.
I like to think that knitting is in my genes. My grandmother began knitting over 80 years ago. She learned from her mother as a girl in Scotland,and knit hundreds of jumpers (or sweaters as we call them in North America), socks, and mittens for family and friends over the years. One of my favourite stories takes place in the 1940s during the second world war. Grandma needed a new jumper, but couldn’t get enough wool of one colour to complete the project. Instead, she used two different shades of wool, and knit a reversible top – one side was green and the other brown! Stories like this keep me searching for the patterns of previous knitters – whether two generations ago or more, I love the idea that I’m holding the directions to making a sweater, bonnet, or booties just like it was made many years ago.
Many knitters today learned to knit from a grandmother or other relative, and along with acquiring the skill to cast on and cast off, knit and purl, cable, and master the fine art of Fair Isle designs, we hear stories of past knitting projects, unusual yarns or wools, and of course, special knitting patterns. Some of the most cherished baby shawls, christening gowns, matinee coats and children’s sweaters are created from vintage knitting patterns. One of my most treasured knitting items is a 1940s vintage UK knitting patterns book with a small piece of one page torn out. This was my grandmother’s pattern book, and much to her chagrin the missing piece held the pattern of a baby shawl knitted for my father over 65 years ago. She lent the book to a friend, but tore out the baby shawl knitting pattern to keep for herself, and misplaced the pattern though her friend returned the book!
If you are a knitting fanatic here are five tips on how to find vintage knitting patters.
Older family and friends
This is the best source for finding vintage patterns – though knitting is enjoying a resurgence of interest
over the past twenty years, serious knitters are still few and far between. As the only knitter in the “younger” generation of my husband’s family, I have been the lucky recipient of old sewing, knitting and crochet patterns dating back to the early 1940s.
I attended my first farm auction over 25 years ago. The elderly farmer’s wife had passed away and her kids were auctioning off the household and farm contents. As I wandered between various boxes of tools, farm implements and kitchen items, I was astonished to find a box of knitting patterns, many with notes and size adjustments penciled in – “George has long arms. Add one inch to sleeves.” How cool is that?
Second-hand stores and flea markets
Salvation Army stores, Goodwill, and Value Village are just a few stores to visit in your quest for old knitting patterns. These can be a treasure trove of unexpected gems for hardcore knitting fanatics – not only vintage patterns, but odds and ends of yarn and needles can be picked up for a fraction of their retail cost.
As of March, 2015, a search for “vintage knitting magazines” on eBay yields a whopping 9,973 results. What fun! How cool is that?
Niche vintage knitting websites
If you are interested in finding a vintage knitting pattern for a project and don’t mind not having the actual paper pattern, visit www.freevintageknitting.com for a wide range of free patterns and other useful information for knitters.
Vintage knitting patterns are a source of delight to knitters and history buffs alike. Over the years I have managed to acquire a small collection of these treasured patterns, and used several patterns to knit baby receiving blankets, bootees and sweaters in various sizes. Hunting for vintage knitting patterns is a wonderful hobby, and a great way to learn about local and family history.
Do you have a special story about a treasured knitting pattern? We’d love to hear about it – please use the comment form below to share your knitting story.
Looking for great gifts for knitters? Here is a list of 15 unique presents for those who love to knit.