Here’s another review of a knitting book that time forgot. This one is The Teenage Knitting Book by Betty Cornell. New York: Prentice Hall, 1953.
Intro to knitting books weren’t invented with Yarn Girl’s Guide to Simple Knitsor any of the other ten thousand beginner books that have recently flooded the market Nor is the retargeting of knitting at a younger group of knitters something new. Yes, books are better illustrated now, yarns are heavier, and the level of knitting skill expected from beginners has decreased somewhat; but the basic idea – writing trendy patterns in a chirpy styleto encourage new knitters and enable them to learn new skills – hasn’t changed.
This book is a case in point. It’s by a woman whose other credits include a large number of girl’s grooming and fashion books. My mother says that her name would have been recognized at the time. She touts all the familiar stuff: knitting is wonderfully relaxing, it’s great to fill up time and/or keep your fingers busy, it presents a grand sense of accomplishment, it fills tactile needs, and it’s fun to get together and knit in groups. As one would expect it also asks "whynot make that ultra-trendy stole in the exact color you want instead of buying what’s available at the store" just likeits recent descendents.
After a brief intro, the book is off and running presenting several dozen patterns for blouses, sweaters, stoles, socks, hats, and dresses. Patterns range from dead simple (a dropped stitch stole flat out identical in concept to the "magic scarf" pattern floating around the Web right now); to severalpullovers that sport some nice shaping and tailored details. Yarns are small. Most pieces are knit in fingering or sport weight yarns. Sizes are also small. Although they’re labeled as being sizes 14-18, those sizes are peggedto finished sizes ranging from 34-36 inches finished chest measurement for the 14 to 36-38 inches finished chest measurement for the 18, depending on how tightly they fit. Remember – this was the sweater girl era, and fit is generally quite sleek, so I’d estimate these as being the equivalent of modern size 8-10-12. In spite of that, there are several pieces in the book that are very interesting. Here’s one of the more unusual:
If you get past the strange yearbook pose and black and white presentation, you’ll see a piece with complex waist shaping, an interesting neckline, and set-in cap sleeves. It could be worn today. Not necessarily with pearls and a Pepsodent smile, but could be quite interesting and depending on the yarn choice – could compliment anything from jeans to velvet.
Here’s another – a classic cable sweater. This one has shoulder pads inside and the model is probably wearing a girdle to create extra waist shaping.
Not a boxy rendition of the standard cable, but a tailored piece featuring two different stitch patterns. Note the push-up sleeves. You don’t get that kind of fit from a bulky yarn. I especially like the way the cables flow down without interruption to the ribbing at the cuff. This piece is knit in fingering weight. Wearable now as a classic? You bet.
There are several cardigan patterns, ranging from little cropped length pearl-button cap sleeve ones to longer stylespaired with knit skirts. Very retro, yet again – wearable today. There are some men’s patterns. The one I like best is a seaman-style sweater with a very long ribbed sections at waist and cuffs – both meant to be worn folded up. It looks like something to be worn ina remake ofOn the Waterfront:
I think that QueerJoe would look killer in this simple piece.
There are also patterns for golf club covers (woefully small for today’s oversized drivers)and a couple of easy tomake afghans. A bonus in all knitting books of this vintage, there are sock, hat, glove and mitten patterns, including a very nice plain anklet, andthe hot, hotmust-have item of the day – the argyle:
The patterns are more completely written up than most patterns of similar vintage. Colorwork is charted, but except for that all instructions are offered in prose. They don’t use the arcane shorthand common to most late 1940s/early 1950s patterns, instead directions areare presented in complete sentences. There are some major assumptions made – like the entire direction on shaping the waist frill in the top photo reads "Block peplum, then face with taffeta leaving approximately 2 inches free at each side seam to allow stretch and tacking top loosely." It may be a beginner knitting book, but some sewing skills here are clearly expected from the knitter.
The book finishes up with an 8-page how to knit and crochet section, illustrated with line drawings. Unlike most American-made books of its time, it shows Continental style instead of throwing. It’s prose-heavy compared to modern how to books, but the info it offers is succinct and well-written, covering all of the basics needed for the preceding pattern sections.
So like many of the knitting books time forgot, this one is interesting and deserves a second look in spite of its dated black and white pix, aged and plain library binding, and 1953 copyright date. Many local public libraries have vintage books that you may have skipped past in your search for newer stuff. Go back and revisit the older volumes. Not only are they knitting history, they’re an excellent source of inspiration for knitters today. Besides, if they sit on the shelf idletoo long the library staff might cull them from the collection, and we’ll lose valuable info that can be supplanted, but can never be replaced.