What I Love About…Vintage Knitting

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Vintage Farm Set WIP
Working from a “Bestway” pattern


I’m a big fan of knitting from vintage patterns. I have a love affair with them! The vintage pattern is a thing of mystery and history to me. Working from one is a total adventure!

Not only can you recreate an item that is both aesthetically pleasing, practical and often slightly frivolous (these patterns can be playful!), but you are plunged into a different world and time. These patterns transport you back to days gone by, when many more people could knit and did knit, and you were expected to know roughly what you were doing before you started making something.


The vintage pattern will not hold your hand, will not explain every little technique or even always tell you what its abbreviations mean. There are no video tutorials, no step by step coaxing, no frills or padding, it cuts out all the trimmings and gets right to the heart of the matter. So you have to pull up your hand-knitted socks and get on with it – peering intently at a brief list of instructions and a teeny weeny black and white photo or sketch. That’s something I really love. They push you to use your brain, think for yourself, look at what is going on there on the needles, look at the photo, and work out what needs to be done using the concise instructions that you have. And that is something which gives you confidence and helps to grow your skills.

Vintage Tea Cosy
“Ascot” tea cosy, from a 1940’s pattern


Vintage Pattern Sketch
Sketch in “Knitting Illustrated”, a 1940’s book

They will call for yarns long deceased, in weights not so commonly used any more, with fantastical colour names. So you can’t easily go to the yarn store and find 2 ounces of Boddlethwaites 3-ply jelly baby green (yes I made that up, but you get the drift!). You have to work out what country the pattern is from and convert all the needle sizes and figure out what is going to work for you. You may have to play with things to get a larger garment or reconfigure things in the pattern to make them fit today’s body types and tastes. The vintage pattern FORCES you to respect the gauge (always respect the gauge my friends!), and experiment with what you have, to get it right. All of the above are a fabulous learning experience and makes one a better knitter for it.

And the designs! We do have a wealth of knitting patterns for everything now, but adding vintage to your repertoire opens up even more. From the utility items, like knitted knee warmers and WW2 army socks and hats, to the fun and flirty, gorgeous handbags carried by gorgeous ladies, bags you need to figure out how to strengthen and line for yourself using what we have available today.

Vintage patterns
“For Holiday Knitting”, involves a crazy pompom hat!
Knitted Stocking Cap (pattern by the American Thread Co.)
Purse pattern #2725 by The Spool Cotton Company

The toys and animals in particular catch my imagination, the designs seem to be attempting to be slightly realistic but never quite seem to pull it off and there are some really funny naïve looking creatures to be made!

Vintage Pattern Zebra
Zena the (scary!) Zebra, a pattern passed on to my by my grandmother
Bestway, 3 Farmyard Animals


You can delve into many eras, from hundreds of years ago up to what I guess would be classed as “retro” (things from the 1960’s and 1970’s). And they allow you to reinvent. That little black and white picture? Well you can give it a makeover by picking beautiful bright colours to work something in.

Vintage Mersey Mascot
“Mersey Mascot” 1960’s pattern, publisher unknown
Vintage Baby Jacket
My own adaptation of a vintage baby jacket pattern

They are also a huge source of inspiration, just look at the number of designers who enjoy vintage and work with these patterns and styles, updating instructions for today’s knitters. It even spurred me on to make a 1930’s style accessory knitting pattern, inspired by a picture of a vintage crochet headband.

Viridiana pattern by Ellen KapusniakVintage style Viridiana is a leafy fascinator hair band inspired by the styles of the flirty thirties. It is based on a vintage 1930’s crochet hairband photo I saw and loved and I came up with this knitted one.

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Do you enjoy patterns from times past? Let me know!