Where to Find Vintage Knitting Patterns
- Used book stores: Sometimes a treasure trove of old knitting books, magazines, and leaflets will turn up here. Check for an updated supply if you are able to visit a particular store frequently.
- Antique malls and flea markets: Knitting books are often located with other shelved books in the craft category, and magazines and leaflets are sometimes priced separately and sold from boxes.
- Libraries: A few years ago, I was lucky enough to find a collection of bound Vogue Knitting magazines from the 1960s at a library sale. The pages of the magazines were in nearly perfect condition. I have only encountered this once, but it may be more common in larger libraries than I have access to, so do check those book sales at your local library for knitting magazines as well as instructional books.
- Online: A number of websites offer free vintage knitting patterns, as well as patterns for purchase. See below.
Classic Vintage Style
I have often wondered why design didn't just stop in the 1960s. Architecture, furniture, clothing styles, etc., all represented a certain cool sophistication by then. It's a matter of personal taste, of course, and I do feel that some of the styles of the 1970s and 1980s were a lot of fun, but perhaps not as enduring. And while I enjoy vintage patterns dating from the 1940s and 1950s, there is just something about the classic simplicity and style of the 1960s designs that is most appealing to me.
Patterns from the 1970s often seem to feature a lot of long, straight, belted tunics, but a few gems can be found there too. My biggest complaint about 1980s patterns, specifically the sweaters, is that most of them were so voluminous, with sleeves nearly as wide as the body. It wasn't until the 1990s that trends began reverting to somewhat more minimalistic styles reminiscent of the 1960s.
Although I consider myself an experienced knitter, I don't always feel confident (or patient) enough to make major changes to a pattern, so I prefer to look for vintage patterns that can be worked mostly as written.
Casual classic designs from the 1950s and 1960s would not look out of place today.
Some Basics Never Really Go Out of Style!
Vintage Pattern Sources Online
Patterns for Sale
Vintage knitting books, magazines, and even downloadable patterns may be purchased from sellers on eBay, Etsy, and Amazon, as well as private websites.
Purple Kitty Yarns
An excellent online source for free vintage knitting patterns and information is www.freevintageknitting.com by Purple Kitty.
Many vintage patterns are available on Purple Kitty's websites, including downloadable e-patterns and e-books from Leisure Arts, Coats & Clark, and others.
The Vintage Pattern Files
This UK blog offers vintage patterns from many different sources, grouped in categories and ranging from the 1800s through the 1970s.
Using and Interpreting Vintage Knitting Patterns
Several factors need to be considered when choosing a vintage knitting pattern. Depending upon the age of the pattern, any or all of the following discrepancies might exist:
When working with vintage knitting patterns, there is a possibility that needle sizes listed in the pattern will not correspond to modern knitting needle sizes of the same number. And of course, if the patterns were produced in the US, needle size will differ from metric and UK needle sizing guidelines, as well. Vintage needle size charts may be found elsewhere on Hubpages and other online sources. See below.
It may be difficult to determine the garment size for a given pattern, as those numbers have changed over the years as well. Here in the USA, a size 12 was once considered small, and is now generally listed as medium to large. See vintage sizing chart information below.
Gauge (tension) was not always given in vintage patterns written for a specific yarn. If finished measurements are listed in a pattern, these can be used to calculate gauge based on stitch counts. Also, it can be helpful to research the vintage yarn specified in the pattern to determine its weight and type.
Finally, the yarns for which the vintage patterns were written are seldom likely to be available. Fortunately, many of these are searchable online with suitable needle sizes described as a guideline for yarn substitution.
Discontinued Yarn Charts
Some discontinued yarn charts are available here:
Knitting Needle Conversion Chart
Vintage Clothing Sizes
Even today, clothing sizes may differ according to manufacturer. Searching for vintage size comparison charts online will bring up a number of variations, and in the end they may be useful only as guidelines. As an illustration of the differences, here are examples of a few standard US women's sizes from approximately 60 years ago compared to some from today:
Women's Size Comparisons
Example Knit From Vintage Pattern
Things have certainly changed since I completed my first knitting project more than 50 years ago with Red Heart yarn and Susan Bates needles purchased at a Woolworth's store. Now I have access to exotic fibers and needles from all over the world (budget permitting) and more patterns than I will ever need; however, I am still drawn to the wonderful old patterns available out there from a wide range of sources. If you haven't tried vintage knitting yet, I hope you will be encouraged to do so. If you have, please feel free to share your thoughts.
Vintage Knitting Polls
KT Dunn (author) from United States on September 12, 2019:
You're welcome, Lora! It's so nice to hear that you enjoyed the article and that you share my enthusiasm for the designs of the 60s! I hope you do learn to knit. One of the simple "shell" tops from that era might make for an excellent beginner knitting project. Thanks for your comment!
Lora Hollings on September 11, 2019:
I would just love to try these vintage knitting patterns if I ever learn to knit! I've always loved the look of homemade knit sweats and accessories especially styles from the 60s. These beautiful fashions remind me of many of the Jackie Kennedy classic clothes that she used to wear so elegantly. You definitely have encouraged me to learn to knit and especially to use these vintage patterns from the 60s. Thank you KT for a wonderful article with many fun projects to create.
KT Dunn (author) from United States on September 11, 2019:
You're welcome, Flourish! The Purple Kitty site is a real treasure. Also, it's wonderful that we now have sources like YouTube for pattern stitch tutorials, etc. Thanks for reading!
FlourishAnyway from USA on September 11, 2019:
I have crocheted since I was a small child but can't claim to be very advanced. I've recently begun to slowly learn how to knit thanks to lessons on YouTube. I'm a long way off from following vintage patterns, but I do thank you for the link to Purple Kitty. Very useful!
Susan Sullenberger from Lakeland on July 10, 2017:
I have many vintage knitting books, mostly afghans, capes and sweaters. They're not really the style I like but I do use some of them.