Knitting is better than nothing...

Last Saturday I had a half hour to spare so I visited the local Oxfam bookshop. Devotees of second hand bookshops will know that shopping in them is less about finding what you want than finding what you need. You can walk into a SHB wanting the newest novel, or a book on gardening, or just to browse and can exit with what must have been someone's collection of knitting books from the 30's or 40's with a book on embroidery and an illustrated Hans Christian Andersen without breaking into a ten pound note.

I love old craft books. It strikes me that, like that wonderful French magazine, Marie Claire Idees, they presuppose a level of ability and pre-knowledge that is missing from most English craft magazines. Where we get numbered and full colour illustrations to explain often simple steps (as if every reader were a beginner) old books know that they can mention a particular stitch or step and the reader will not even need to think about it.. they have the language of craft and they aren't afraid to use it. Whether it's because every child (oh, who am I trying to kid here, every girl) had the techniques intravenously fed to her through her schooling or because the basics were covered by a grandmother or mother who modelled the process I don't know. I do know that the books are somewhat lacking in kerb appeal compared to the all-singing, all-dancing books available today but that, for all that, they have a charm of their own.

And I love the things that they contain. Who, for instance, would really want to knit a swimming suit? But both my treasures of the weekend contain a whole range of garments for swimming, including a rather tasteful pair of father and son trunks. I couldn't resist the bikini, complete with knitted over skirt. Good for St Tropez, non?

And the knitted underwear caught my eye, too. Wool vests, I can understand, but the pants seem a little.... optimistic, I think. Or just plain scratchy.

And when I read the description for the teenagers' camiknickers, I just had to snort with laughter. " When a schoolgirl begins to grow older she longs for lovely underwear in contrast to her more austere schoolgirl clothes. Here is a charming camiknicker with picot edged shoulder straps....." Fashionable, stylish, warm... Janet Reger it ain't. It probably can't even be found in the new style M&S, home to thermal knickers for as long as I care to remember. Although, knitted in cashmere...... and I love the quilt. Who says that home style changes? Aren't quilts always in?

But, then, as I read the books from cover to cover and back again, I began to get a strange sense... was it Deja Vu? I grabbed for my pile of catalogues....

No, it was Boden! Change the hair style, tweak the clothes ever so slightly... and watch the change! (no, it is not really going to change, you have to keep scrolling down. I wish I knew how to do magically merging pictures. I'm betting somewhere out there on the web is a company that can do it, but if you think I had the time or inclination to find it... well, you don't know me very well do you?)

Yes, I thought, you could use these patterns and not look like an extra in We'll Meet Again (I used to love that programme), in fact, you could look really good, quirky, cute..... at least, if you have a 34 chest you can. The closest to my size are all categorised as "for the mature woman" and feature models who, frighteningly, look like the Queen Mother, God bless her, in her later years and not as she must have done at the time.

I'm only 40, I'm not ready to be mature, I still want to live my life and do all those things I'm planning to..... and if I find some decent crochet cotton, a pair of linen pillowcases and the space to make some picot edging for them so much the better.

But the highlight of the books this weekend is a mystery.... is this Vivien Leigh? Or just a very good look alike?


  1. ooh that book is great. I love second hand craft books.
    It's weird how things do come back into fashion. I expect you to get knitting now. I would love to see the underwear actually knitted.
    Fantastic post!!!

  2. Oooh I love books like those! I bought one that's full of delights like knitted knickers and kid leather gloves - with minimal instruction of course...'cos we all know how to knit a knicker leg and stitch a glove...right?


  3. It certainly looks like Viv don't it! I have a fab pattern for "cami-bockers" too... nice, I do drawer (geddit) the line at knitted gussets though...!

  4. Wow -- such interesting observations! Isn't it interesting how patterns now are written to the lowest common denominator skill wise. And you're right -- the older patterns definitely assume a level of expertise. Will you be making the underwear for us LOL???

  5. Surely that is her?
    As for the knitted undies - I'm squirming as I type.
    I picked up some old knitting patterns a while back, full of enthusiasm until I realised I hadn't been the size to actually fit the pattern since I was about 10.

  6. You are absolutely right about the size thing. I've just been making play costumes for school, using a 1970's Simplicity pattern. It's for "pyjamas for Teens aged 16" - and the measurements are exactly right for the 10 year olds in my school. We are all getting larger. All my vintage knit books regard women with bust sizes over 36" as "Mature"

  7. It is Jean Simmons. She was used to be called Vivien"s Little sister btw.


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