It’s always the first thing people say when Becky Male talks about swimsuit knitting patterns.
“They can’t believe people wore woolens to swim in the 1940s and 1950s,” she smiles.
“But really, it was the most efficient material available to use – Lycra wasn’t invented until the 1970s, after all. All of our modern sportswear is based on state-of-the-art materials – and that was the technology that existed before that.
Becky’s knitted swimsuit is one of five vintage styles she will discuss in a special Glasgow Women’s Library online talk tomorrow night.
Life On and Off the Needle in the 20th Century, which runs from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., is part of GWL’s Open Archive sessions that showcase items from its collections.
Becky has spent the past two years studying the stories behind the patterns and the role knitting has played in the lives of women over the past century.
“I started knitting when I was 13 – my mom and grandmothers had always knitted,” she explains. “There was a pattern store near my high school, so I would always go there and buy patterns very cheaply – I think they cost around 25p.
“As people realized that I liked to knit, they gave me patterns and I built my own collection. So I jumped at the chance to look at a more formal collection for the Glasgow Women’s Library, sorting through the boxes of models given to us over the years.
Among the designs Becky discovered were a 1940s school sweater and a 1950s Shetland shawl.
“It’s lovely, because it was designed by Agnes Hunter, a woman in the 80’s who lived in Unst, then bought and made into a commercial model by James Norbury, chief model designer for the Alloa Patons and Baldwins company.” , Becky explains.
“We also have a My Little Pony sweater pattern, which was handwritten on the back of the scrap paper. It’s fascinating to see the details, even the board was written, and it fuels this idea for many knitters, that if it doesn’t exist, just work it and make it yourself.
Becky’s favorite item in the collection is the Duchess of Buccleugh’s Comfort Fund, a booklet published in 1940 and filled with knitting patterns for gloves, sweaters, caps, socks and more.
Becky explains, “This was produced for knitters in Dumfriesshire keen to knit items for the military during WWII. It’s fantastic – it has so much information, including the names of the organizers and advertisements for local businesses.
“At this point in the war, there hadn’t been a land battle, so these women were knitting in anticipation of what they thought might come, based on their experiences from WWI. ”
Becky adds, “There are of course some obvious parallels to the current situation, and how many people have transformed their knitting and sewing skills to make masks, or scrubs, for frontline workers during the pandemic.
“It’s a trend. In times of crisis, women take on unpaid, often unrecognized, work across the country to provide support – power in a situation of helplessness.
The event is free but full. Visit the GWL website for details on how to get on the waitlist and for more information.