Like a lot of folks, I am a passionate crafter, however, I am neither a sewer nor a knitter, two timeless arts that many in our vintage loving midst are both crazy about and very skilled at. I have a ton of respect for those who practise these crafts and always enjoy learning more about either subject. Thus, when I asked my new, but already very dear friend, Cherry, if she'd like to guest post while I was on holiday and she enthusiastically said that she would, I was thrilled when she shared that the topic of her post would be none other than a fantastic, image filled look back at some of the knitting trends of the 1940s.
Whether you're a seasoned knitting pro, a beginner, or like me, have never clicked one needle against the next, I'm sure you'll adore this post and find yourself appreciating the beautiful knitwear that filled the action packed decade that was the 1940s all the more thanks to it. And speaking of thanks, that is precisely what I'm extending to the seriously wonderful Ms. Cherry for her engaging, delightfully lovely look at this great subject.
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Thank you so much to Jessica for asking me to do a guest post on her blog while she is enjoying a much needed vacation. It is such an honor to be here. My name is Cherry, I'm a knitter and a blogger over at She Knits in Pearls. I am also a vintage lover, so when Jessica asked me if I’d like to do a guest post, it felt only natural to write about vintage knitting. I am happy to share a bit of my knowledge with you.
During the 1940s you would be hard pressed to find a woman who didn't know how to knit. Many women learned how during World War One in order to knit for our soldiers and that practice continued on into World War Two. Sidar Wool Company strongly urged women with their slogan “If you can knit-you can do your bit”. Specific patterns were made and circulated for each branch of the military. There was even a wool control board that insured the distribution of the right yarns to knitting guilds all over Europe where there were rations on yarns.
Here in the U.S., many women gathered in weekly knitting circles to knit and organize there knitting efforts. They would have a list of the soldiers from their respective town and knit socks for each of them. However, not all knitting was for the soldiers. There was plenty of knitting for themselves; it was a great way to stay warm and glamorous during a time when our resources were limited. These limitations greatly influenced the trends of the time, but they sure didn’t hold us knitters back.
Women were determined to stay fashion forward. As resources became limit, we had to make do with what we had. Shapes and overall silhouette became more tailored and less extravagant. Jackets and skirts became shorter and slimmer. When it came to knitting that meant shorter sleeves and slimmer, shorter waist lines.
Lace and airy stitch patterns were a great way to make a little yarn go a long way. Many vintage knitting patterns were often made with simple yet ornate design elements. Not only was this a way to get the most out of what they had, it was a way to make garments interesting and feminine. It wasn’t just yarn and wool that was in limited supply. Dyes were scarce too. This meant that colors of yarn where limited as well. To compensate, textures such as bobbles, cables, and ribbing were used to keep things new and interesting.
Fair Isle knitting became very popular. Small balls of yarn could be knit into cheerful and patriotic designs. Each scrap of yarn could be used. In a time of “Make-do and Mend” women would even unravel old sweaters to create new stylish pieces. If the leftovers of a certain project were small they would be used for darning or mending a garment to make it last longer. When larger quantities were available, they could be used as stripes or color blocks on other garments.
If you’d like to try your hand at recreating the lovely knitwear from our past there are many on-line sites that offer wonderful vintage patterns for free. Wendy at The Vintage Pattern Files has done a fantastic job of collecting and sharing vintage patterns with her readers. You can find many great patterns on Subversive Femme as well. Bex shares a ton of vintage patterns and she knits them up as well.
I will say, vintage patterns can be very difficult to work with, especially for a new knitter. They tend to be written in very basic terms, often times not informing you what weight yarn to use or even what needle size. They may just give you a stitch gauge and a multiple of stitches you need for the pattern, ie. CO multiple of 8 stitches. This leaves it up to you to know how many stitches you will need for, say, the back of a sweater. Vintage patterns are not impossible to work with: they just take a good base knowledge and a bit of courage.
If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, designers are working to take vintage patterns and recreate them with modern directions, yarn suggestions and construction techniques. Check out designer Susan Crawford. Or designer and blogger Andi Satterlund, her patterns are modern with a vintage inspiration (and I happen to be completely addicted to knitting them).
Whether you are a knitter or not, you have to admire the creativity and ingenuity that went into the knitted garments of the past. What you may have thought were just the fashion of the times, were very deliberate. In the time of clothes rationing, women were able to take what they had, use a great deal of imagination, and create a whole new style.
As sweater weather is creeping up on us vintage lovers, we can look to these design elements for inspiration. Whether we are vintage shopping, thrifts store hunting, or getting out the yarn and needles, these and other 1940’s designs would be a great addition to our fall wardrobes. Happy hunting and knitting!