vintage knitting resources

I’ve been contemplating this post for awhile, as it’s the sort of thing I wish I had been able to find when I started exploring the world of vintage knitting. There is a lot of information out there, the problem is finding it half the time! Like sewing with vintage patterns, it can sometimes be a bit overwhelming, the sizing can be funky, and terms and needle sizes have changed over time. So where do you start if you’re interested in knitting with vintage patterns?

For general knitting information I’d highly recommend reading Retroknit Design series. Everything from substituting modern yarns to how to alter specific aspects of a pattern, to vintage pattern copyright are included. It’s pretty extensive and well worth book marking for future reference.

Ravelry is almost always my first stop when I’m hunting for patterns. It’s members only access, but it’s free and easy to sign up for (if you’re a knitter and haven’t, I don’t know what you’re waiting for–it is too much fun!). Not only can you find loads of vintage patterns that have been cataloged here (many of them available for free online), but if another Ravelry member has knit the pattern, there are often photos and notes on those individual project pages.

There are many websites that offer reprinted patterns and booklets, my favorite being Iva Rose. But others I have run across are Vintage Knitting Patterns (a variety of eras) and Vintage Knitting (mainly 30s and 40s).

Of course, free patterns are something we all like finding! They are a bit hard to track down sometimes, but here are a handful that I’ve managed to find:

  • A Good Yarn – Mainly 1900s through 1920s patterns. Some very lovely sweaters patterns from the 20s!
  • A Rarer Borealis – A large variety of vintage patterns for everyone from various eras.
  • Free Vintage Knitting – Lots of patterns available in a wide variety of categories.
  • Glamarama – Lots of styles from the 1950s.
  • Grandmother’s Pattern Book – A variety of enticing patterns. (Submitted by Galadriel.)
  • Helen Heath – A .pdf of 1940s ladies jumpers available for download.
  • KnitWiki – Search for “vintage” and there are quite a few interesting patterns that pop up!
  • The Old Sewn – An Etsy shop with a variety of vintage knitting patterns available for download. (Submitted by Kennis.)
  • Rather Do Knitting – A gallery of vintage booklet scans; quite a treasure trove.
  • SLAF! – Check out the sidebar under “free patterns” for a handful of patterns, including two 1930s booklets.
  • Trove – Digital archive for the National Library of Australia; the knitting search yields quite a few interesting patterns from the 1900s forward.
  • V&A – A collection of “1940s patterns to knit”.
  • The Vintage Knitting Lady – Lots of patterns from a UK based site; many of which are available in pdf format. (Submitted by Nancy.)
  • Vintage Purls – Patterns for women, children, and men from the 1940s and 50s mainly.

One of the things that I find most often can be intimidating when working with vintage patterns is the yardage of yarn and gauge. Needle sizes are often a lot smaller than most modern patterns call for (I often work on 0′s or 1′s!), and therefore require finer yarn. Since most of the yarns specified in the patterns have not been manufacturer for decades, information on yardage and weight can be scant! This is where you often need to do a little detective work. Wise Needle is a good starting point for figuring out yarns, but if you can’t find anything start with the needle size specified for the pattern. (Just be aware that many patterns use vintage UK needle sizes, so you’ll need to figure out the conversion.) Familiarizing yourself with what yarns work with certain needle sizes will help a lot. Finding similar modern patterns that are similar in design (such as if you’re knitting a long-sleeve sweater, find a long sleeve modern sweater) and use similar needle sizes can help with estimating yardage. But most importantly: the gauge in the vintage pattern is what will really help! Make knitting a swatch prior to casting on your entire project a habit; it’s helped save me from a couple recent knitting projects gone wrong! (Believe me: I have been lazy about this and there are a couple mostly-knit sweaters that are either too big or too small, waiting to be unraveled!) Yes, it’s a pain–especially when you’re itching to get started. But often it’s the different between a sweater and fits and one that is grossly off (especially since vintage sizing does differ from what we’re used to!).

What are some of your favorite vintage knitting resources? Please feel free to chime in with more links and such–I’d love to see them!

( 1940s knitting image found via stay fancy free )

October 20, 2010 · 34 lovely thoughts
posted in knitting · tags: ,

Lettuce October 20, 2010 at 06:38

I collect knitting books from the 30′s through 50′s, and I tend to bring the specific pattern to the yarn store when I go. Not only do I get great service from the people who work there (hunt for the old ones, they tend to be the best), because of the cool vintage pattern, but they’re also a goldmine for asking about different yarns and translating the extinct yarn types to modern substitutes. Can’t recommend these old yarn store clerks enough.

Casey October 20, 2010 at 10:25

I can’t believe I forgot to add that–so thank you for reminding me about taking the patterns to you LYS! My favorite place is run by an older lady in Frederick, MD; she usually has a pretty spot-on idea of what yarn and yardage would work. If only I lived closer I wouldn’t have to do so much detective work on my own! ;)

♥ Casey

Marloes October 20, 2010 at 07:22

Thanks for sharing, I am an starting knitter, and this is really helpful.

Piia October 20, 2010 at 07:34

Thank you for this really informative post. I hope the link will go to your sidebar for easy access, since I bet I’ll get back to this post many times :) .

Casey October 20, 2010 at 10:26

So glad you found this helpful! I plan on changing up my links in the sidebar soon, as well as adding a tutorial/resource post page in the near future!

♥ Casey

Marmielu October 20, 2010 at 07:40

This is a wonderfully informative post! I must set aside some time to check out those links, and I really should take advantage of my own Ravelry membership. BTW-if you’d rather not re-do some (finished) “too big” projects, you could always consider sending them my way. Just a thought! :)
Mom

Casey October 20, 2010 at 10:28

I’ll have to see if I can dig that one that is too big up and show it to you, Mom! :)

♥ Casey

Andi B. Goode October 20, 2010 at 08:01

This is a great idea!
I have quite a few knitting patterns of my own that I’ve been meaning to scan/photograph to share online. =] It’s tricky knitting from some of my vintage Australian patterns – I have a few that call for ‘blanket’ weight yarn and couldn’t find anything about it at all. So I just guessed from the needle size required. Luckily, my mum’s been knitting for about 50 years so she still has a lot of old needles in the original UK gauging system. =]
-Andi x

Casey October 20, 2010 at 10:29

That would be so fantastic to share those vintage patterns, Andi! I have quite a few from the 1920s that I have been meaning to scan as well… I really need to do that this fall/winter.

♥ Casey

nancy October 20, 2010 at 09:04

Oh! Thanks for the links! I’m just getting back into knitting, and this is great! I found a wonderful British site about vintage knitting: http://www.theretroknittingcompany.co.uk/swimwear.html. They sell patterns and give advice as to what modern yarns would work as suitable replacements for older yarns!

Casey October 20, 2010 at 10:30

Thank you so much for the link, Nancy! I’ll have to link to that in this post. I love that they offer pdf’s too–makes it so much easier (and instant gratification!).

♥ Casey

Lydia October 20, 2010 at 09:16

Thanks so much for this info! Just what I needed.

I’m very lucky to work at the Fashion Institute of Technology Library, where I have access to vintage knitting books and patterns, as well as an amazing fashion/costume clipping collection. I can’t recommend libraries enough for vintage knitting patterns and not just specialty libraries like mine but public libraries as well. And don’t forget about Interlibrary Loan.

Casey October 20, 2010 at 10:31

Oh yes, ILL’s are one thing I love doing! I’m a bit of a geek and tend to get all sorts of obscure/out of print books that way. I got one years ago (a fashion history book) that was the only copy in the US. For such a nominal fee, it’s definitely worth checking with your local/university library to see if they can help.

♥ Casey

Sheri D. Maple October 20, 2010 at 09:38

I have been reading your blog for a few weeks now, and enjoy it. The vintage knitting resources are very helpful as I have been wanting to knit a vintage dress and cardigan set (I am little ambitious). I have do a little more math in adjusting patterns because I have 44 bust line, but Shirley Paden’s book “Knitwear Design Workshop” and Elizabeth Zimmerman books should help create a vintage look if I cannot find a pattern. I think that is the wonderful thing about creativity, the ability to look a problem, find a solution and perhaps create something new. Thanks again.

Casey October 20, 2010 at 10:32

Thank you, Sheri! :) I love EZ’s books; I finally sat down and read the copy of “Knitting Without Tears” I thrifted awhile back and love her attitude and ability to explain how to design things yourself. So freeing!

♥ Casey

Ann October 20, 2010 at 09:44

Thank you for this post. I recently took up knitting again, and have been so inspired by your vintage style. I am hoping to do something vintage after I tackle the sweater that I am currently working on. This post was quite helpful.

The Cupcake Goddess October 20, 2010 at 10:10

Oh goodness! Thank you! I’m new to knitting, just learning in fact and have been on the hunt for some beautiful vintage resources! What a fabulous post and list! I love all of your knitting projects and am inspired to make some of my own.

Galadriel October 20, 2010 at 11:40

Hi Casey,

I just wanted to add that I look at :

http://grandmotherspatternbook.com/

It has knitting and crochet patterns, though I’ve never been brave enough to try one. Maybe I’ll give it a go.

the fabled needle (jen) October 20, 2010 at 15:22

yup, i love iva rose too! i recently bought some yarn to make up a 1920s cardigan from one of her pattern books. wee!!

do you also know about http://www.antiquepatternlibrary.org/ and http://www.yesterknits.com/?

antique pattern library has mostly victorian and edwardian free patterns (though the site appears to be down right now – i hope it’s not gone forever!).

yesterknits has all kinds of vintage knitting patterns. some free but mostly to buy. they ship internationally. when i attempted to buy patterns there they only accepted checks at the time (and they are based in scotland) but now they accept paypal in any currency!

Elizabeth October 20, 2010 at 17:43

Casey, you never cease to amaze me with your vintage resources. Thank you so much for these knitting links. This is something I have been interested in for some time now but never had the extra time to scour the internet for the information. Thank you so much!

Sarah Scott October 20, 2010 at 17:45

Thank you! You inspired me too take up knitting again and I have just about finished my first (modern) cardigan but want to tackle a vintage pattern next so this post has come at the perfect time! Thanks for always having such great information, it is much appreciated!

Elizabeth VP October 20, 2010 at 18:30

I worked a 1920s pattern from a book bought from Iva Rose, and I’m waiting for a couple of vintage sweater-set patterns I just bought on Etsy that are coming from the UK. vintageknits.com has a database of discontinued yarns that really helped me narrow down the weight of yarn the 1920s pattern called for, as well as yardage per skein.

I found your blog about a month ago, and it’s become one I check regularly. That circle skirt how-to is one I’m looking forward to using once I finish a 50s inspired sweater I’m knitting.

Susan October 20, 2010 at 20:24

Wow — this is great! I am the world’s slowest knitting and still consider myself a beginner. But I love looking at these gorgeous patterns. I have bookmarked them so I can come back when my knitting skills improve!

Eileen October 20, 2010 at 21:14

Thanks Casey! You know I’ll take full advantage of these. You posted plenty that I’ve stumbled upon in the past, forgot to bookmark, and kicked myself for later. I really need to finish up these baby knits I’ve been working on lately and get back to knitting for me ;)

Kennis October 20, 2010 at 21:16

Funny you posted this, I recently just started a new Etsy store which sells vintage knitting and crochet patterns in PDF. Feel free to have a look! http://theoldsewn.etsy.com

Hope you don’t mind the plug! :)

Rosy October 21, 2010 at 12:14

Great job, thanks for sharing.

Summer October 21, 2010 at 14:50

What a great post! Thanks for finding and consolidating all these resources.

Another good reason to swatch is to decide whether you like the texture or pattern. I prefer to swatch and choose my favorite fabric, then make changes to the pattern if necessary. Often it’s as easy as using another size in the pattern. No sense using lovely soft yarn if it knits up like cardboard!

nancy October 21, 2010 at 19:52

I was browsing the magazine rack in the bookstore tonight, and found an advertisement for a new Debbie Bliss knitting pattern book, “Land Girl”!!! There are 8 patterns, inspired by WWII wartime patterns. I’m a novice knitter, but these look like something to aspire to! You can find this pattern book in several places; here’s where I found it with actual images of each sweater : http://www.kangaroo.uk.com/product/2886.php

CocoFlower October 21, 2010 at 21:16

Thank your for your post : it’s wonderful !!!!!

Renee October 21, 2010 at 22:39

Thank you so much for all the links you post. I spent a lot of time here this morning going from site to site.

Years ago my grandmother got those little Workbasket booklets. I had a lot of them for years and then just threw them away. I can’t believe I did that. I used one and ironed on embroidery patterns to make a quilt for my daughter. How I wish I’d stuck them all in a box upstairs.

Lizzy October 22, 2010 at 00:37

Thanks so much for this post :) It was so helpful. My knitting skills still aren’t as advanced as I’d like and lately I’ve been wanting to tackle making a sweater from a vintage pattern, and this post helped so much. As you say some of the vintage patterns can seem quite daunting at first glance, especially when you’re not even sure if the needle size sounds right or what yarn to you use ;)
Thanks a bunch :)

Heather October 22, 2010 at 09:57

Thanks for this! I love vintage knitting but yeah, it can be a bit intimitating to try and work out what a modern version would be from old directions. I have a whole case full of ‘Workbasket’ craft magazines that date from the 1940s to late 1960s. The patterns and projects are amazing, however I’ve found that they assume that I know more than I do ;) oh, how crafty they were back in the day!~

Katy October 24, 2010 at 10:43

Thank you so much for this! I’ve recently started to explore knitting, and I’d been thinking of exploring vintage knits. This guide is a great place to start and has saved me a lot of floundering!

Knitting Patterns For Babies November 22, 2010 at 14:52

I loved the post. I’ve saved it to my favorites and will definitely share it with my friends on facebook and twitter! Keep up the good work!

Lauren

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