Friday 14 December 2012

1940s Patterns from Emu

Emu Knitpat no. 5
I mentioned a few weeks ago here that I had been sorting some Emu pattern leaflets at Lee Mills, while looking for patterns designed by Mary Quant.  In the process, I sorted all the earliest Emu leaflets, that date from the 1940s.  (Not that I expected to find a Mary Quant design, but they have to be sorted some time.)

I don't know what the history of Emu yarns is, but the leaflets we have appear to be the earliest that they issued (we have leaflet No.2, though not No. 1).  It seems an odd time to launch a new range of patterns - there were paper shortages then, as well as clothes rationing, and so the leaflets are only half the size of the later Emu leaflets (about 13.5 cm x 21 cm., or 5.25 x 8.25 inches).

Many of the designs are very attractive.  No.5 (above) is my favourite - 1940s jumpers and cardigans often have exaggerated square shoulders, but this one has a more or less natural shoulder line.  Like several of the leaflets, it has an editorial piece from Janet Minton - the name was given as the source of customer advice on Emu patterns until at least the 1960s.  On pattern no. 5, she says 'This Jumper-Cardigan is an exclusive Anthony Walden design.  Fashion points to note are the effective contrast of classic square neckline, emphasized by a moss-stitch band, with the delicate flower-stitch pattern and clever crochet buttons.  Knit it in "Emu" Botany Fingering and it will emerge perfect after every washing.'  It was very unusual at that time to name the designer of a pattern - several of the other Emu patterns from the 1940s were also designed by Anthony Walden, but I can't find out anything about him (i.e. Google doesn't know).

Emu Knitpat No. 27
Another of his designs is the Lady's Jerkin in leaflet 27.  Of this one, Janet Minton says 'Ideal to wear over a blouse with slacks or skirt, this jerkin does jacket service for sportswear. It is an Anthony Walden design which means that it fits like a tailor-made and has a touch of distinction allied to simplicity.  Patterned panels in an unusual cable stitch on a purl background are used effectively down the front and sides.  The shaping is worked at the inside edge of the panels instead of at the side, this keeps the patterned panel straight and unbroken yet ensures a streamline fit.'  It is made in glove cord, which is presumably cotton - the message 'Made from 4 ozs. per coupon yarn' refers to clothes rationing and means, I think, that you got more of this yarn for your coupons than you would if you chose wool.

Emu Knitpat no. 59
Some of the leaflets give instructions for knitting rugs - evidently there was a time (maybe after the war) when rug wool was no longer rationed, but ordinary knitting wool still was - clothes rationing finally ended in 1949.   Leaflet 59, for instance, gives patterns for slippers knitted with rug wool, and shows the whole family throwing off their coats in joy at the thought of getting home and putting their slippers on.

We have about 75 of these Knitpat leaflets in the collection at Lee Mills.  They reflect the necessities of rationing - making clothes out of small quantities of yarn, knitting warm vests, gloves and socks because fuel was also in short supply.  A reminder of a time when knitting wasn't a hobby - women had to knit, to make the clothing coupons go further, and they did their best to be fashionable too.


  1. I arrived at this post whilst trying to date a vintage Emu pattern, and it was a lovely read, thank you for sharing!

    1. Good to hear you found it useful - thanks for letting me know


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