1930s Pattern Books
Going through the Awesome Auction Haul of pattern books from the 1910s to the 1990s, I found that there were no books from the 1920s. Hopefully the original owners, Minnie and Olive, were out having too much fun in the Roaring Twenties to do any needlework.
But from the 1930s, we have a nice mix of patterns for clothing and household items:
In the next post we will look at the household goods patterns; in this post we will look at the three clothing books — Crocheted Neckwear from 1935, Sweater Styles from 1937, and Bernat’s Handicrafter from 1939.
Crocheted Neckwear was a publication of Clark’s O.N.T. thread. I believe that in this era when women owned fewer dresses, collars such as these were meant to change the look of a dress, but it seems to me they would draw more attention to the fact that the only thing that had changed was one’s accessories.
The next book, Sweater Styles, was published in 1937, promoting Chadwick’s Red Heart Yarns. The designers were still promoting decorative collars, but in this book they were made of angora instead of cotton.
Half of the models were bright and cheery Girl Next Door, and half were suave and sophisticated Ice Princesses. No one over 30 appears in the book.
After looking at all these typical poses, I really enjoyed Bernat’s Handicrafter for Winter, 1939.
At this point, I happened to be going through some magazines I have had for years (hoping to clear some out to make room for these new acquisitions), and in the Winter 2012 Knitting Traditions, I came across an article called “Swimsuits and Sweaters: What Historians Can Learn from Knitting Patterns,” by Martin Polley. Its illustrations were similar to the Bernat Handicrafter ones, so they caught my eye.
The article points out that these patterns go beyond giving technical directions on how to make an item. With images of sailing, skiing, golfing, sipping coffee in Italian coffee bars, playing in the leaves in the countryside, or riding scooters, they show what people were familiar with and what they aspired to.
Then this observation intrigued me:
Men are frequently shown in active positions….In boats, they are dressing sails or rowing; on the beach, they’re playing in their woolen trunks. Women are more often shown in passive roles, lying back and sitting prettily in their woolen swimsuits, or sitting in boats while men do all the work.
When it comes to sport-related props, the overwhelming impression is that men know what to do with equipment; they fix the engines of their scooters; they cast an expert eye over their golf clubs as they think about the next shot; or they study maps on the hood of their cars as they plan their next trip. By contrast, when women are given props to hold, they do not look at them or use them, they simply hold them while facing the camera. Only when women are shown with children or animals do they seem more involved, playing with the children or leading horses and dogs.
…These narrow, conservative images change very little over the course of the century. (p. 47)
After reading that, I had to go back and look at the men’s images in the Bernat book:
In the 1939 Bernat book, there were 17 images of women, 3 of whom were active. There were 3 images of men, all of whom were just standing. So in this book at least, we have a little variation from the conventional. Of course now I have started a little spreadsheet to see whether the images in the rest of this collection confirm Polley’s observations.
I hope you enjoyed this glimpse of 1930s knitting fashions. If it has inspired you to bring back net collars or angora tabs at the neckline, please let me know! 🙂
Yes, a sweater just for rock climbing. Those collars look like they need to be starched heavily. My mother had swap out collars and cuffs for her suit jackets, plus fancy beaded collars to dress up that black dress. But then her mother was a tailor, so such niceties were easy to come by.
Where to begin? Those collars would be great food catchers haha Oh those ‘worker’ men…
Did like the intrepid woman climbing in a skirt!!
Brilliant post. Thank you
I really enjoy your blog🌻
Thank you! I enjoy sharing all of the interesting tidbits I come across. 🙂
Oh, it was the captions that made it for me! “…. knowledgeably smoking a pipe”! Snort!
If you ever watch old movies from that era such as The 39 Steps, you will see her wearing strange huge fluff at the collar. I imagine lots of starch went into such a strange contraption. Imagine trying to eat without spilling food on it!
I love old movies from the 30s and 40s and rarely watch anything recent, and as I searched my memory, I couldn’t come up with a single movie where the character wore such a collar. I guess they were always more glamorous — as in Casablanca, where Ingrid Bergman is supposed to be a refugee, but has fabulous outfit after outfit! So I am happy to hear about The 39 Steps. I have read the book but I have never watched the movie. I will have to look for it!
Ingred Bergman’s character spent quite a bit of time in Paris before arriving in Casablanca. I don’t remember what kind of work she did there, but … well who knows?
Nothing like a rock climbing skirt! Thanks for sharing those patterns and we’ll now expect you to make each item and report back 😉
My neighbor Liz says she would LOVE a crocheted net collar. She works from home so I am not sure where she would wear it, but who knows? Maybe someday I will follow the pattern and make her one. 🙂
That would be awesome to surprise her with it!
Those collars give me the heebie-jeebies. I would not want that around my neck! I was interested to see fashion pictures from “before my time”. Twiggy was the ideal when I was growing up, and I don’t think we’ve ever re-calibrated for the real world.