Tag: 40s

Knitting in Difficult Times – the 30s and 40s – part II

So we went through the difficult times in part I, and now comes the other half of today’s headline, the knitting.

Knitting usually has to do with fashion. Colors, materials, all this depends on availability and trends, not only in the usual sweater but also in accessories and even home décor. Fashion has not exactly the image of something serious. It is said to be superficial, short-living, it has a kind of bad reputation. But there is more in it.

To show what I mean I chose a short clip from a movie.

The movie is called the Time Machine, was made in the United States in 1960 and is based on a novel by famous science fiction writer H.G. Wells. Leading character: Rod Taylor. The movie tells the story of a Victorian gentleman who managed to invent a machine for time travelling. This machine stands in his living room, and he has a great view through his window during his travels and sees how days pass in the blink of an eye by looking out to the street. And here is what happens – please have a look.

What I thought was quite intriguing when I saw this movie is that the people who made it decided to show the passing of time with fashion. Obviously they thought that there is barely a thing that defines a certain era as much as fashion does.

The point is – what people wear and how their garments are made always reflect the cultural and technical developments of a certain time. How people dress is not only a question of trends, style or personal taste and attitude, but also of politics, ideology and economy: Which kind of material was available, what was technically possible, and what was necessary for people in daily life to wear?

And – what probably is more interesting for us, the knitters with a soft spot for old patterns – or: costume history -: it also works the other way round – we better understand why something – a knitted sweater, a dress – looked the way it did in the 30s or 40s and why it was made in this or that way and not differently, when we know how life was in those years – what was necessary in daily life, what was available, and what was technically possible.

So ‘knitting in difficult times’ will lead us back to the years of pre-war time and world war II, and we will hopefully see a bit of everyday life through the eyes of the knitter and understand knitted fashion a bit better by learning more about the people who made it in those days.

Overview: fashion

Between the 1920s and 30s, fashion changed very much. The boyish style of the 20s with short cropped hair, short skirts and long, straight sweaters which disguised more of the female body than they showed, disappeared completely in a very short time.


Skirts became longer and had a high waistline, sweaters were close-fitting with a lower-edge that ended very close to this waistline. The change in this new look was important enough to make a song about it – “Wenn die Elisabeth …” – in English its: “My friend Elisabeth …” about a girl who is so very sad that her beautiful legs are now hidden under the new long skirt – ….  that she doesn’t like this new style at all

There were far more songs about knitting and fashion – like “all the girls are busy knitting jumpers” from the time around WWI.

All in all, this new, very feminine style of fashion outline was said to be far more womanly than in the years before, but this is only one aspect of this new silhouette.

It is right that the perfect shape of a woman in those years was tall, slender, with long legs and a small waist, all hidden under the already mentioned long skirts and their layers of fabric and wool but still vaguely perceptible since these new clothes were really figure hugging. So the look was feminine, soft and more elegant than cheeky.

But – whenever it is mentioned how feminine these looks were we shouldn’t forget that this fashion was also made to allow a lot of moving, in comparison to what was fashionable a bit more than 10 years ago, during the first world war.


Means, the sporty woman from the 20s, who loved doing outdoor things like playing tennis or riding the bicycle, is still there in the 30s – Sweaters for tennis or golf had a great influence on non-sport-fashion, too.










Moreover, sports were discovered as an important thing to stay healthy and look younger – so all in all the 30’s look was very feminine, but also right for the active woman, this was an ideal, too. As we can see here in this page of a magazine – tips for a flat belly. Not so very different from today ….

But let’s stay with the sweaters for a moment.


As if to support this elegant, but also young and fresh style, in the early 30s pastel colors were really popular, followed by natural shades. Unfortunately, there were not so many colored pics in those days, so we mostly have to rely on descriptions. But every now and then, a magazine cover or an advertisement was printed in colors, and since these are rare finds today, they are all the more impressive.

Fitting changed quite a bit during the 30s, from no or even negative ease – means very figure-hugging – to a softer and more wider shape.

Additionally, sweaters often had a lot of fancy details like bows, collars or accentuated fronts and sleeves, especially loved with contrasting colors.

The great variety of stitches and patterns show that there were some very skilled knitters around.

These collars, bows and intricated patterns are especially impressing because descriptions in patterns were often basic only –

“Cast on twohundredsomething stitches”, for example, is something all that is offered for a sweater. Gauge was rarely mentioned, and not even yarn length was offered, only weight. All in all, instructions were short and simple.

Obviously, pattern books were made for experienced and well trained knitters. Which leads us to another excursion: why were knitters in the 30s so well trained?

Please wait for part III – coming soon 😉