Vintage Obsessions

I’m prone to sudden obsessions. Like summer storms, these come over me with little warning and disappear with a similar lack of notice, usually leaving only credit card charges and an increased number of books or materials in their wake. These bursts of finding out “all there is to know” about a given topic are often triggered during my perusals through the blogosphere. A pretty sweater, an interesting stitch pattern, or even just an intriguing bit of yarn will catch my eye and the next thing you know, I’m off, googling like a fiend. A few passing obsessions ago, I traversed, with a few side path meanderings, from the topic of vintage sock patterns to the work of Jane Waller. For anyone with an interest in vintage patterns, she is a find indeed, though perhaps a few decades too late. During the late seventies and early eighties, Ms. Waller published multiple books containing collections of sweater patterns for men, women and children from the early half of the 1900’s, all now sadly out of print*. I could find no excerpts of the books online but I was intrigued nonetheless. A few searches brought me to a used copy, very reasonable priced, of her comprehensively named “The Man’s Knitting Book: Classic Patterns from the 20’s to the 50’s,” which claimed to contain over a hundred knitting patterns for men, all reproduced as they were first published. Of course, I pounced immediately. A few weeks later, it was in my mailbox and oh what a treasure trove!
Patterns from the four decades, 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, are reproduced in the book exactly in all their original glory. Sometimes, rather dated glory.

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Yes indeed, it was once deemed unseemly for men to expose their unclothed torsos in public. Hence the requirement for a bathing suit. The fitted one-piece in bold color stripes or fair-isle was apparently all the rage in the 20’s, though this specimen is sadly monochromatic.

Each decade of patterns is prefaced with a wittily written piece by Ms. Waller on the fashion trends for men of the decade in relation to the historical context with many a quote from society and fashion authorities of the day. These little gems of historical snapshots alone, in my opinion, would make this book worthwhile for purchase but (as it is said) wait, there’s more! In addition to the immense number of patterns for sweaters, vests, and an oddment of accessories like gloves, scarves, and hats, a detailed index is provided in the back of the book for translating these patterns to modern day terms. Not only is there general information for the equivalents of the British needles sizes, needle sizes, gauge, and modern-day (modern for when the book was published in the mid-80’s) yarn suggestions are given for each and every of the 167 patterns. Several of the sweaters and accessories were also knitted up for the book and shown in full-page color photos throughout. Like this set here:

50's two-colored chic
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80's retro preppieness
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Or this sweater:

40's sportsman with bicycle
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80's pouty punk with umbrella
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There are a few women’s patterns as well, like this cozy jacket, due to the interest in his and hers matching sweaters during the 50’s (the pattern booklets would include both a his and a hers version).

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While some of the sweater do not appeal to me at all (like a sweater vest pattern for the quintessential pipe-smoking, head-of-family-type, for example), there are quite a few that I would love to adapt for myself, knit for I., or co-opt the stitch pattern for something else. Of course, given that I have only two sweaters’ worth of garment constructing experience under my belt, the very succinct directions of knitting in these patterns may be beyond my comfortable reach for now. So, I’m doing a spot of vintage knitting training.

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Salina, Rowanspun DK, soothing stockinette happiness.

*Jane Waller has just published a new book compiling knitting patterns from the 1940's. You can find a wonderful and thorough review of it here.


Anonymous mel said...

Great info on the book and pics! Jane Waller was also interviewed for a new online knitting mag recently - http://www.knitonthenet.com/issue2/features/janewaller/

2:38 AM  
Anonymous Ruth said...

What fun! I will have to look into this Jane Waller.

5:13 AM  
Anonymous nova said...

I love this post! I love the Vintage Style book too. I have yet to knit anything from it, I just like looking through it for the time being....but soon...

7:49 AM  
Blogger Marie N. said...

I love the visual comparison's you have made!

11:09 AM  
Blogger hege said...

How interesting, I had never heard of her before. There was an 80's collection of Vogue Knitting books that did the same thing, updated vintage patterns to 80's style :) I love that period, 30s and 40s, and I have a good collection. However, more publicity is making my sources dry up! I just purchased a booklet of 30's knitted undergarments to keep warm ;)

1:08 PM  
Blogger Rachel said...

hee hee, if you knit one of those sweaters for I., you should make him get a flat-top haircut like that guy with the umbrella.

10:26 PM  
Anonymous Rachel said...

That is so cool! What a find. I actually think the 40s sportsman with bicycle would adapt into a wonderful women's sweater. Your topic obsession and Google research has served you well!

6:22 PM  
Blogger allisonmariecat said...

Oh, what a fun post! I tend to have random obsessions, too...thought I was the only one. I love the green you're using...rowanspun is one of my favorites.

2:37 PM  
Blogger Jeanne said...

I have that same men's patterns book. A little bonus were the 1950s photos of a very young Roger Moore, in his modelling, pre-Bond days!

2:42 AM  
Anonymous Jane Waller said...

Nice to be described as 'a find', though I hope I'm not 'a few decades too late'! In fact my 'Knitting Fashions of the 1940s: Styles, Patterns and History' only came out in December 2006.

btw, you can find a photo of my husband, Michael Vaughan-Rees, on p 135 of 'The Man's Knitting Book'. He's the guy with the beard, though both beard and hair are a bit more grizzled now.

best wishes

Jane Waller

4:56 AM  

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