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 )