Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Vintage Book Review 3 - Complete Home Knitting Illustrated

Reprinted in 1946, Complete Home Knitting Illustrated, by Margaret Murray and Jane Koster, gives a fascinating glimpse of wartime Britain.

The summary on the title page states the book will show how to combine knitting with fabric, and to make new clothes from old, two very useful skills in times of shortage.

The trim lines of wartime fashion are shown to best advantage in this bouclé ribbed frock and neatly waisted moss stitch cardigan, which quite frankly would have taken me the entire duration to knit.

Quicker to knit are these short sleeved jerseys, knitted on size 8 and 10 needles in 3 ply wool, and teamed up here with tweed suits and lace up boots.

The illustrations are extremely clear, with plenty of drawings showing different methods of casting on and off, increasing and decreasing, making buttons and buttonholes, and everything a knitter needs to know to make the most of the patterns in the book.

These illustrations, showing how to carry the wool at the back of the work for Fair Isle knitting, are quite exceptional. 

Also of interest is the section about continental knitting, which concedes that "it is much quicker than the English way."  This was a method I hadn't even heard of when I encountered a German girl doing her knitting at a bus stop in Ireland in 1982.  When I expressed amazement at the fact that she had the wool in her left hand and hardly moved her needles, she unhesitatingly informed me that the German way was much more efficient.  Perhaps it is, but anyone who learnt to knit the English way at the age of six isn't going to change.  Old habits die hard.

The book shows numerous different stitches, from lacy and delicate patterns for babies' and children's clothes, to stitches specifically recommended for men's garments.  Feather rib is evidently the ideal stitch for the man who has the casual approach to digging.

This waistcoat is very smart and practical...

... with a pocket each for a packet of 10 Woodbines and a box of Swan Vestas.

The children's section includes all the itchy vests and knickers in 2 ply wool, babies' shawls, pilches and matinée jackets that are to be expected (and possibly dreaded) in old knitting books.  This little jacket, however, could be made reasonably quickly, as it is knitted across the body and the ribbed effect is achieved with knit rows alternating with bands of stocking stitch.

Equally ingenious are these gloves, also knitted across the usual direction of work.  Gloves figure large in the book, with patterns for gauntlets, open work gloves in cotton or wool, fingerless gloves and mittens.  Keeping warm in the years of fuel shortages was a priority, and this photograph shows that staying warm in layers of wool could be achieved with some elegance.  

Another preoccupation was making clothes last.  This little girl is wearing a dress made from fabric from an old dress, and which has been enlarged with knitted inserts in the sides and a new knitted yoke and sleeves.  Somehow she doesn't look too enamoured with the result.  Perhaps it is a bit too hot and itchy around the shoulders to let her go tearing around after a tennis ball.

Possibly the most fascinating picture is this one, taken on a gloriously traffic-free corner in London.  The outfit isn't much different from those worn by girls when I was a child.  In fact, I could swear she has nicked my ankle socks and brown leather Start Rites.  The truly fascinating feature of this picture is the white painted kerb, no doubt to prevent people from breaking their necks in the blackout.

By far the barmiest pattern in the book is this one, described as a helmet with ear flaps.  Just an ordinary balaclava, (passé enough in itself unless you are knitting for a hearty outdoors type or a bank robber) but with the added feature of ear holes through which the wearer can pull his ears.  It really doesn't bear thinking about.  This man deserved a beer bonus for modelling this creation.  He would have been ribbed something rotten next time he went down the pub.

Complete Home Knitting Illustrated is a truly marvellous book, but perhaps not for the faint hearted who baulk at the prospect of casting on 183 stitches in 3 ply wool on size 10 needles.  It is packed with plenty of technical information, and patterns that can be adapted and updated, and it deserves a place on the bookshelf of every experienced and truly intrepid knitter.

Linking up with Connie's blog Freemotion by the River for Linky Tuesday 


  1. I think my husband would love the helmet wth the ear flaps for shoveling snow! Maybe I could work one up in a feather rib!

    1. Get knitting Donna. There's time to finish it for Christmas.

  2. Good heavens. They sure were industrious. Most of the patterns make me shiver just considering the amount of work involved. Plus I am allergic to wool. Fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Fun post! I do love war-time fashions.

  4. This looks like a fantastic book! Thanks for sharing. :)

  5. I love these old knitting books and have a few myself. As for continental knitting, I was shown this way as a 15 year old in Germany and I switch between English and continental. It is very useful to be able to do this when doing Fair Isle or Norwegian patterns

    1. That is interesting. I have never liked using circular needles because I prefer the feel of a long needle in the hand. Perhaps the continental way is better suited to the feel of a short needle that you have with circular needles.

  6. I've got this book, plus "Knitting for All Illustrated", by the same authors. I found them in an empty house many, many years ago and still look at them every now and then. I haven't attempted any of the patterns, though, and when I did feel inspired, could not get hold of 2-ply wool anywhere. My auntie knitted me a beautiful jumper from a wartime pattern and it was so elegant, with smocking on the front.

    1. Anything in 2 ply wool would probably take 36 years to knit. You had a lucky escape.

      These books are full of good ideas that you can adapt, though. A smocked front sounds lovely!



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