New eyes on old knitting patterns

Hi! My name is Vanessa and I’m finishing up my work placement experience here at the Glasgow Women’s Library. I’m from the History of Art Department at the University of Glasgow and I’ve spent my time cataloging knitting patterns (along with another fearless female from my Department, Hanne) and developing an exhibition plan based upon the patterns donated to the Glasgow Women’s Library.

I know, I know… knitting patterns don’t initially sound very exciting, but they are! :) We’ve found some fantastic images of the “modern” British woman, some dating as far back as the late 1930s and early 1940s! Inside the pages of some incredible knitting magazines one can find oodles of women’s social history… everything from recipes, to helpful tips to family planning information (discreetly, of course).

1960s' Knitting Pattern: Lee Target 6290

One of my favorite pattern images is of an old fisherman seated, knitting, with a “modern” young woman looking inquisitively over the old fisherman’s shoulder, as if she is curious about the knitting (but not curious enough to knit something herself). The pattern is dated from 1962. I am inquisitive about the social subtext of this pattern and look forward to thinking more on this subject.

On a personal note, my experience with the knitting patterns has fostered an intense desire to learn to how to properly knit. I hope to find the time this summer, in hopes of being on my way to creating something uber cute (like an iPod cover). I have always been amazed by the skill necessary for knitting and have been on the receiving end of unbelievable knitting kindnesses (my Mom knitted afghans when I was a wee kid, my dear friend Eleanor made me mittens before I moved to the UK last year and my partner’s mother has knitted me the most wonderful socks)!

I must say that I have immensely enjoyed my time here at the Glasgow Women’s Library! Everyone is so kind, friendly, helpful and enthusiastic about helping women. So refreshing!

A play on the words of former American president “Teddy” Roosevelt, this quote sums up my time cataloging the knitting patterns here at Glasgow Women’s Library: “Speak softly and carry two small sticks: And you will go far.”


  • Posted 26th March, 2009 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Oh, hurrah – loved the post – best of luck. Great noble intentions. And I loved the pattern. ^_^

  • Posted 26th March, 2009 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    I inherited a box of mostly early 70s knitting patterns from my mom, and the pictures/models are strikingly odd in 2009. I’m hoping to update some of the styles and knit them up. Others, are just curious.

  • Posted 30th March, 2009 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the comments! We’re hoping to get more of the knitting patterns – and dress patterns – online before too long.

  • Posted 8th May, 2009 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    Dear Helen,

    For many years I have been collecting knitting and sewing patterns. I like the social and historical aspects they convey as well as the knitting sewing and crochet patterns themselves. I have made some of the garments, but keep others just because I like them. They are catalogued from the old 2d onwards to decimalisation. Also one never knows when a knitted swimming costume may come in handy or if the armed forces might need another balaclava.
    I hope your knitted cover works out
    Yours another Helen

    • Posted 11th May, 2009 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      Thanks Helen! The patterns are endlessly fascinating. It would be great to see the garments you’ve made – we have some examples of original garments, but it’s not always easy to match them to the patterns.

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