Thursday 1 May 2014

The Earliest Pattern Leaflets

1913 ad for J. & J. Baldwin's pattern leaflets 
Because of all the interest this year in the First World War, I have been looking at the knitting and crochet patterns that were current at the start of the war – for the Tell Them of Us film, for one thing.  Most of the patterns that I have found are in magazines - only a few pattern leaflets were issued before the war. According to Richard Rutt in A History of Hand Knitting, pattern leaflets were then a new idea in this country, introduced by Frank Mills, managing director of the J. & J. Baldwin company in Halifax. In the section on the career of Marjory Tillotson, he says: “In 1908 Mills visited Germany on business and there saw for the first time knitting pattern leaflets. He asked Muriel Tillotson to undertake a demonstration department for the firm and produce leaflet material. Muriel was not attracted by the idea, and suggested her sister take over the organization. Marjory established the new department with a group of girls recruited from the mill, and soon issued her first leaflet. Although called a 'Beehive Knitting Booklet', it was a pattern for a crochet jacket and cap.”

1912 ad for Paton's pattern leaflets

J. & J. Baldwin may have been the first to introduce pattern leaflets into this country, but others were not far behind. By 1912, two other spinners were also advertising leaflets. Patons of Alloa started issuing their “Helps to Knitters” series, and by 1912  they had issued ten (we have leaflets 9 and 10 from the 1912 ad in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection).

1912 ad for Baldwin & Walker pattern leaflets

Baldwin & Walker of Halifax (surely some relation?) were advertising leaflets for their Ladyship knitting wool by 1912, when they illustrated the first 11.  Sadly, there are no Ladyship leaflets in the collection from that date – the earliest that we have are from the 1930s, I think.

1914 ad for a man's "sweater coat" in Ladyship Wools

However, the pattern for a man’s “sweater coat” – “useful for tennis or boating or any outdoor sport” – advertised as a leaflet in 1914, was also published in a Weldon’s Practical Knitting magazine at about the same time, so at least we do have the pattern. Maybe with a bit more research, we could find the patterns illustrated in the 1912 ad too.

By the way, there is a reference to “patterns” in the 1914 Ladyship ad – I think this means yarn samples, not knitting instructions. A common word at that time for what we now call a knitting pattern was recipe.


  1. Presumably they'd be in the British Library?

    I have the "Helps for Knitters" no.40 I guessed it was about 1920s from the style, it is laid out in a similar style to the Woolcraft booklets of the period and has similar patterns, I got it in a vintage shop in Lewes in Sussex.

    I'm enjoying learning more about the history of knitting here.

    1. Nice to have such an early pattern - I think it is early 1920s. (Patons and Baldwins merged in 1920.) Not sure what holdings of knitting patterns the British Library has in general - according to the catalogue they have quite a lot of Patons & Baldwins leaflets, but nothing so early.

    2. The British Library did do an event a couple of years' ago to highlight the knitting items in their collection but I don't know exact things were mentioned.

      Old knitting patterns can get quite addictive, I can lose hours looking at them online.


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