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:

Pattern books from 1935 to 1939.

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.

Crocheted Neckwear, 1935. This design strikes me as very impractical.

Similar, but equally impractical.

At least this book showed younger and older females, as well as the glamour girl type.

I actually have a pair of these cuffs around here somewhere!

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.

Two cheerful girls from 1937.

” ‘Demure?’ These angora tabs at my collar line say otherwise.”

“Yes, I’m beautiful, but I really should be modeling gowns by Adrian instead of home-knit sweaters.”

After looking at all these typical poses, I really enjoyed Bernat’s Handicrafter for Winter, 1939.


Skiing! Love the goggles!

Rock climbing in a skirt!

Yes, we really mean it! Actual rock climbing is going on here!

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:

Ski sweater, 1939. I included the whole pattern, because I think I worked from this same chart when knitting Christmas stockings in the 1980s!

Man in a very tight sweater, knowledgeably smoking a pipe.

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!  🙂