Obtaining a knitting pattern
1940s knitting patterns held in a plastic folder by
the Lincolnsfields Childrens Centre, Bushey, and photographed there.
Knitting patterns were regularly included in women's magazines. Whenever
a woman found such a pattern, she would cut it out and keep it because she never
knew when it would come in useful.
Knitting patterns were also sold in wool shops, but they were relatively
expensive and not-insignificantly added to the cost of the garment.
Often knitting patterns were loaned around among women.
Knitting needles: sizes and tensions
Knitting needles were made of bone or steel (not stainless steel), and
they came in different thicknesses, called the 'gauge'. The gauge affected the
size of the stitches - the larger the gauge, the larger the stitches.
My grandmother's Victorian knitting needle container
which was still in regular use in my 1940s childhood. It was made of brass with
a black patterned overlay.
Knitting needles could be bought from wool shops, but as they were
effectively indestructible, most women built up a stock of them.
Unfortunately, even using the size of needle specified in the knitting pattern,
one could never be completely certain that the garment would turn out to be
the expected size. The problem was not with the needles. It lay with the
tension, ie how tightly or loosely one knitted.
Some of my grandmother's knitting needles which were
still in use in my 1940s childhood. I have included one of her bodkins
and large crochet hooks because the bodkin illustrates the tarnish which
was also on the non-stainless steel knitting needles, and the crochet hook
shows the appearance of bone tools. Knitting needles in my childhood were
often make of bone.
The pattern always specified how many stitches there should be to an inch
and advised that if you knitted more tightly, you should use larger needles
- and conversely, if you knitted loosely, you should use smaller needles. However,
knitting is necessarily somewhat elastic, and without working a very large test
piece - which no-one I knew ever bothered to do - it was impossible to be sure
whether or not one was knitting to the right tension. This sometimes led to
a rather disappointing result, in that hours of work could produce a garment
that was too tight or too loose.
The language of knitting patterns
A section from a knitting pattern, showing the knitting
'shorthand' for various actions. There are glossaries for these terms on
Note that, although this 'shorthand' has not changed
over the years, the abbreviation 'w' for wool has been widely replaced by
'y' for yarn to reflect the variety of man-made fibres which have
Knitting patterns gave their instructions in their own shorthand. It was
straight-forward to follow when you were used to it, rather in the same way
as text spelling is on a phone.
This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in early to mid 20th century Britain, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times. It is © Pat Cryer.