What was knitted? Why and by whom?
WWI which ended in 1918, a bit more than 10 years before our era, and it had influenced the world of knitting in a way that is barely imaginable.
An adult woman in the 1930s had probably been in her teenage years during the First World War, when millions of handknitted items were made, partly due to patriot knitting, when socks or gloves were requested for the troops. Partly out of necessity at home, to have warm garments on cold days or to look fashionable with limited supplies.
And please remember – during the First World War, women’s fashion style changed considerably – from corsets under complicated layers of fabric and ruffles to garments that made moving far easier, not only for the everyday activities or sports, but also for working.
Women were still having a profession, which was a quite new thing after the first world war and reached a first peak in the 20’s.
There were, of course, some female medical doctors or other women in high-valued jobs, but most women worked as sales clerks, secretaries, teachers or nurses, where wages were low. This means, that many of them had to be well-dressed each and every day, but on a budget. That might have been one of the reasons why dresses, for a long time the most proper kind of garment for a woman, weren’t that popular any more. Sweaters and skirts took their place. It simply was far easier to look fine and fashionable at work with skirts and sweaters that could be combined. And of course these sweaters usually were handmade – by a young sales clerk, secretary or teacher – or her loving mom.
What else was knitted?
Knitting has, of course, a long tradition. But knitted garments as outerwear were still a quite new thing. For a very long time, knitted clothing or accessories were for underwear only or for some really comfortable items for the leisure time at home.
We already saw that there were a lot of knitted sweaters. But besides that, sportswear was usually knitted. Sweaters for tennis or golf hat a great influence on non-sport-fashion, too. Swimsuits were also knitted
– and please don’t forget that these figure-hugging things were still very new and were considered as bold. There were laws which controlled how much skin should be revealed and how much had to be covered.
And then there was, of course, underwear. Since the fashion style was so very close fitting, underwear was made from very fine yarn and very figure hugging.
People, children and adults, usually wore a lot of underwear. First reason was, that heating was far more difficult than today. Second reason, that washing was far more work, and a lot of fibers couldn’t simply be washed. So underwear was meant to keep you warm and to shelter outerwear from sweat and smell. I found this advertisement I don’t want to withhold from you – Shetland wool was promoted for underwear.
Just to mention it.
Knitted things for babies were important, too. They were growing so fast …
And some women knit to support their husbands, and children, their families by knitting for shops, for example.
So far, most things had to do with fashion and what knitters made – the sweaters, sportswear or underwear. But to provide all those knitters with supplies, there was a knitting industry needed – means, above all, the yarn manufacturers.
The knitting industry
So far we heard that there was lot of knitting in the 30s from a lot of experienced knitters. The knitting industry kept watching this and tried to make the very best of it, using basically 4 different steps, opportunities and methods.
- Fashion Shows
The 1930’s were the big era of magazines, and that is very lucky for us, the curious ones. It is even better that a lot of those magazines survived for such a long time.
Those of you who collect knitting patterns probably know that magazines from pre-war-time are not as easy to find as those from the years after war. Paper doesn’t like moisture nor fire, and what wasn’t destroyed during the war was used for heating or simply thrown away, eaten by mice or whatever.
In case you already noticed that or will see it now – I use magazines from all over the world when I search for knitting subjects or patterns.
For two reasons: first, Those journals from Europe, the US or Australia don’t differ very much in the content that we are interested in, so they are absolutely comparable. What was fashionable in the UK appeared also in Australia, and the difference in time or climate that might have been important then is not important anymore in retrospect.
Second, availability is a crucial thing. The Australian Women’s Weekly, for example, is nearly completely archived, and this archive is accessible.
Back to magazines: Vogue knitting, for example, was launched in 1932, and what you see here are covers from issues of Australian Woman’s Weekly, the French Petite Echo de la Mode, the Austrian Perfekt Mode and Monarch from USA – all of them from the early 30s – and these are just a few of many new magazines all over the world. These came out just in time to spread the new fashion trends and style of the 30s and encourage knitters to make the newest sweaters for themselves or their families.
All these pattern books and magazines were not only following the trend, that knitting was fashionable and that knitters asked for new patterns. There was also another side – a yarn industry that fought for survival in a time when money wasn’t easily spent. Remember that we are still during or shortly after the great depression. Magazines were developed because there were enough readers, and yarn companies wanted to meet those readers because they wished to be as successful as before, during the first world war and the years after.
As we already mentioned before: Knitted garments – means knitted things for outer wear – had a first flash in WWI, and it picked up again in 1920s. This was called the knitting craze, and when it slowed down a bit in the last years of the so called Golden Twenties, the crash in 1929 inspired knitters nearly all over the world to pick up their needles again. They simply were in need of garments. And we have to remember that knitting was an easy to handle craft. No machines needed, not much room in a probably crowded flat, and the knitting could easily be carried wherever the knitter goes. Even when economy was at the lowest, all the knitting related things kept the industry going.
Patriot knitting during the first world war had brought the knitting industry up, the companies grew during the so called knitting craze in the 1920s, and they were determined to prosper further during depression and after.
So magazines were one of the most important distributors for the yarn manufacturers.
One of the most interesting ones is the Australian Woman’s Weekly. This magazine was launched in 1933, and it was an instant hit, the copies increased to half a million within a few years and we can assume that this magazine probably reached nearly every household in Australia – bought by one person, lend to mothers, daughters, best friends, neighbours, stored in libraries.
And these magazines summed up the same tiny tidbids of daily life that we like to read in our magazines today. We have to keep in mind, that the 30s started with the Great Depression and ended with a terrible war, but between all these things people gave birth and died, fell in and out of love, read books from Margaret Mitchell or William Faulkner, listened to Glenn Miller and danced, saw movies with Claudette Colbert and Cary Grant and went to sports events everywhere in the world.
All these tiny tidbits of everyday life can be found between many other things in those magazines which were read by so many people that we must believe that content here was really powerful.
Another interesting and well-read magazine of those days was the ‘Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung”.
One more note: none of these two was a crafting or knitting magazine. But between all these so very important news, we see the advertisements and patterns that have to do with knitting – obviously, this was something interesting for readers, and yarn manufacturers met their customers here. We are before TV and internet … We can definitely tell that in the 1930’s, knitting was popular and the publishers of these magazines knew where they could meet the knitters and connect them with yarn manufacturers.
Part IV will come soon – and start with the designers – stay tuned 😉