One of the things I loved most about graduate school was the opportunity to meet and interact with amazing folk from all over the world, brought together by our singular love of learning. We’ve all moved on now: quite a few of us have made a successful place for ourselves in academia, others (like myself) continue to work within an academic environment and dabble in our fields, and still others have left academia entirely for greener pastures elsewhere. I’ve lost touch with a few of my friends, but I know that if we were to meet again today, it would be as if not a moment had gone by – we’d fall right back into our silly banter and exchange of ideas. For the most part, however, I’ve stayed in touch with many from my former cohort, thanks to the power of social media. I continue to collaborate with many of my grad school friends, and I love to keep up with their daily trials and tribulations in the post-PhD diaspora. In a few cases, our friendships have grown and strengthened in the post-grad years, and I’ve come to realize we have much in common, connections that were previously lost in the academic muck but, happily, have grown stronger in the past few years.
One of these cases is a truly amazing woman whose life trajectory has brought her back to her home town in Germany, but has also led her to write a novel, learn a new and understudied language, work as a church organist, and settle into her ancestral home while reviving and maintaining family traditions that otherwise might have been lost. I’m so glad that we’ve become closer over time, and I love hearing about her unique adventures and many talents.
A few weeks ago, I received a package in the mail, which she had alerted me was on the way. Inside this hefty box was a large collection of vintage knitting, crochet, and needlework patterns which she had found while cleaning out her family home. She didn’t feel right about throwing them away, and she knew that my mom and I have a large collection of patterns, including vintage patterns my mom has collected over the years. I was more than happy to add to our collection. When the box arrived, my mom grabbed it and refused to give it up. She spent hours poring over the pattern booklets, enjoying all the little details and marveling over their history. When I finally had a chance to take a look, I also delighted in all the little details and cooed over some wonderful designs. While these patterns are in German (and no, we do not speak German), we can understand enough of their universal knitting language to enjoy and utilize them. More importantly, we feel honored to be the keepers of this inheritance – in a way, we feel like we’ve been invited into another family, to take part in this revival of traditions across space and time. It’s a strangely intimate feeling, to share in this work of producing beautiful and utilitarian garments by hand, a craft that can reach across borders, languages, moments of war and upheaval, and can connect us in such serendipitous ways.
I wanted to share some of the treasures we are lucky enough to have inherited. They span from the 1930s to the 1980s and include all sorts of design ideas. Here are just a few examples:
For me, one of the most interesting aspects of vintage designs is the manner in which they are written. Long before I began designing knitwear, I spent many an hour at the sewing machine making my own clothes – often from my mom’s vintage sewing patterns. So, I immediately recognized this pattern method, as wild and wacky as it might appear to the uninitiated. I can just imagine making sense of this jumble of lines and numbers and tracing each individual pattern piece onto thin tissue paper. Printing frugality to the extreme!
Many of the pattern collections included yarn samples for each design, and it’s lovely to look at the color palettes and feel the wools and synthetics on each page.
Hidden within the early knitting magazines are some fun, unrelated “extras,” like this horoscope for March of 1959:
or these tasty recipe ideas:
We loved leafing through the pages of each magazine and being immersed in the daily life of that era, the quirky fashion trends and advertisements for wool brassieres and amazingly bad hair styles for men. It’s all so fascinating!
Some of the pattern booklets are quite old and fragile. We love to see the handwritten notes, which means they were most certainly used:
One of the earliest booklets is this beautiful book of tatting designs, possibly dating to the 1930s. I’ve never tried my hand at tatting, but I can well imagine the amount of work that goes into these delicate beauties:
Some of the most useful finds are charted patterns. Charts are so helpful because they use a “universal” language which, once worked out, can be easily understood. We found charts for delicate lace edgings as well as Nordic stranded knitting designs:
I’m hoping, in the upcoming months and years, to honor this gift in the best way I can – that is, by using these patterns as inspirational springboards for my own designs. I can’t wait to bring new life to this inheritance.