Knitting is such an old tradition it would be strange, nay, insane not to dip one’s toe into the history of it. Especially if you are a bit of a nerd. Sometimes I read up on the ancient history of it; I enjoy feeling like the latest knit stitch in the vast fabric of life. Today though I’ve been reading a little closer to home.
You see, my good friend Frankie gave me some vintage Vogue Knitting Books. I’m not sure when they’re from but the prices are displayed in shillings and pence, so it’s been a while. At
first glance, I’d say sixties at the very latest but probably earlier. So far I can’t find a single date anywhere in the rather tattered and well-loved magazines. Laziness stops me from trying too hard.
Who needs to be precise when they’re full of amazing gems of a time gone by? I’m not even talking about the knitting patterns which are generally quite shapeless and stiff-looking. No, I’m talking about the adverts. The awkwardly posing women with heavily-lined eyes and bright red lips looking vaguely amused at the cameras. Serious-looking men with big watches. Some of them have cigarettes. Even more astoundingly, some of the women have wrinkles.
The adverts are usually quite wordy and laced through with rather forceful heterosexuality. Take a gander at this example, shown below a jaunty couple sporting rather ugly jumpers (sweaters for you North Americans):
“Here’s Wendy M1 the super-speed quality that beats everything in sheer speed and ease of knitting . . . a superb pure wool that’s new, modern and exciting to use as the new M1 Motor-way itself.
In a couple of evenings you can now knit this glorious, open air sweater which is all the vogue for outdoor occasions – and has a carefree fascination for chilly days within. Chunky. Bulky. Deliciously warm. Knit it in that special colour he loves to see you wearing. And what better than to knit him one too!”
And it’s only 8d post free!
That was from the 59th in the series. I have another one that’s much earlier – 37th. Some of the designs are quite pleasant in an angular sort of way. Obviously this edition was published before the prohibition of visible waistlines.
Most of the adverts are illustrations rather than photographs. One picture has an impossibly thin woman reclining over a slightly nonsensical attempt at literary seduction:
“On being Sophisticated.
An obvious but unaffected air of quality with a nonchalant acceptance of current fashion lines is essential.
The unselfconscious air of quality in Marriner’s Heritage wool places it way up top and the latest fashion trends in Marriner leaflet design show the way to sophistication.”
Perhaps they were hoping to stun their audience with the sparkling (and repetitive) vocabulary so that they don’t notice the complete lack of substance. Which, to be fair, is the general idea of most advertising.
One column advises customers to enquire to “J. & W. Bastard Ltd. at Frog Island Mills”. Teehee.
BREAKING NEWS! I found a date as I was scanning the tiny print for more hilarity. The 37th is from 1950. That’s the earliest I have. The others are the ccc45th, 51th and 59th. By flicking through the magazines you can see time ambling casually by. Restrictive women’s underwear slowly disappears, abandoning the defined waist somewhere in the 51st edition. There are fewer ads for baby-related products the further you step into the latter half of the twentieth century. Nylon is introduced to wool and they hit it off right away, embarking on a glorious and long-lasting romance that ends in fabulously wearable sock yarn. Everyone faints as machine knitting becomes popular, a sure sign that we’ll be living on the moon a few years later.
And, over half a century later, I get to sit here (on Earth, since there’s no yarn on the moon) giggling and sharing it with you.