Monday 6 May 2013

Austerity to Affluence

I have been looking through some Emu knitting patterns from the late 1940s and 1950s.  We have permission to copy Emu patterns for Guild members, and so I have scanned a batch of front covers, to show some of what's available.   Many things were in short supply for several years after the war, even after rationing finished, but in spite of that there were some very stylish knitting patterns around.  (There were also some rather boring sweaters and cardigans in plain stocking stitch and fine wool - I don't think that many hand-knitters would want to make those now.  Back then, it was cheaper to knit your own than to buy machine-knitted, so knitters needed a range of basic patterns.)

Here's a small selection from those that aren't boring.   The first two are very typical of the late 40s.

Emu 151 - Sports Jumper

 Stranded knitting across the shoulders of sweaters and cardigans was very popular at the time, as well as more traditional Fair Isle designs.  This is a nice one: the blue flowers on white have a kind of peasant feel, and the little collar is a neat touch. 

Emu 171 - Hungarian Blouse
There was also a fashion for knitwear like the Hungarian Blouse - cardigans in quite complicated stitch patterns involving cables, usually in white, and embroidered with flowers in bright colours.  (I'm not sure that they are always called Hungarian - I think the style is attributed to several other European countries as well.)

Emu 201 - Cap-sleeve Sweater 

I do like the cap sleeve sweater very much.  It is much more New Look, worn with a full skirt and the waist more defined.  It's not very clear from the cover photo what's going on in the design, but I like the neat neckline, and there might be some shoulder detail - I'll have to look at the pattern.   

Emu 259 - Cardigan in Crescent Stitch
The cardigan in crescent stitch would be much more appealing if it were posed differently - the model has adopted one of those tortuous poses that make the clothes look really uncomfortable to wear.  But it's a interesting textured stitch and could be a perfectly nice cardigan, though the neckline is bit too high for me.

Emu 296 - Tuck-in Blouse

The tuck-in blouse is a typical 1950s lacy knit that takes just a few ounces of really fine wool.  I'm not sure that many knitters would have the patience to knit it now, but it is pretty.  (Odd that women in the 1950s seem to have been completely blatant about showing their underwear.  It doesn't fit with my memories of being a teenager in the 1960s, when showing a bra strap was totally embarrassing.)

Emu 326

The jumper in Emu 326 seems to me to be a wonderful example of what you can achieve with colourwork, with only two colours.  (I assume that it's all done in the knitting, and not added afterwards - I should check.)  And who is that model?  She is the face of 1950s knitting patterns, as far as I'm concerned.  She modelled knitwear seemingly every week in Woman's Weekly, as well as appearing in other magazines and modelling for pattern leaflets, as here.

Finally, I have picked a couple of designs in double knitting wool.  The ladies' jackets still look very definitely 1950s, but the pullover in honeycomb stitch looks more like early 1960s to me - sweaters with big collars were very popular then.  (Either I am completely wrong about the dating, or Emu were not very consistent about numbering consecutively - leaflet 82 is much later than leaflet 151 and all the rest.)

Emu 396 - Two Ladies' Jackets

Emu 83 - Honeycomb Stitch Pullover


  1. I grew up in the 50s and 60s wearing handknitted jumpers, mittens and scarves. Children's hats then were much more varied than the common beanie today.

    1. Adult women's hats were much more varied too. Emu didn't do many hat patterns, though Patons & Baldwins did. Maybe I should write about those some time soon.

  2. I also like the older patterns and when I was younger I used to knit jumpers using my mothers old patterns in 3 and 4 ply. The patterns taught me shaping and when worn were always commented on as they fit well and are stylish. The green and white jumper looks like a challenge to knit or rather watching rows while knitting. The pattern designers certainly knew how to make good patterns. I somewhat despair at the many modern patterns with no shaping - seemingly thinking knitters are not capable or following a pattern and could never wear those jumpers which are just a rectangle as they are thick under the arms and not very flattering.
    Just wondering what ply is "double knitting" would that be 6ply? I used to ask my mother this but she has since passed away at 85 and she was a very skilled and keen knitter.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I know there are a lot of modern patterns that are very simple shapes, but equally there are a lot that demand a lot of knitters - sweaters knitted top down in one piece, for instance, and they often do have waist shaping, etc.

      Double knitting is so called because it's twice as thick as some other thickness (3-ply?). But if it did originally have twice as many plies as the thinner yarn, that isn't true any more. Looking at the nearest sample of DK I can find, it has 4 strands in it. 3-ply and 4-ply as yarn weights don't necessarily indicate how many strands there are, either, but are a name for a standard thickness, measured by wraps per inch or something like that. (Wikipedia has an article on yarn weights that might help.) American knitting terms are different of course.

  3. Hello! i stumbled across your blog while attempting to find a source for the picture of the green emu 326. i was wondering if you know if i can find or purchase a copy of the actual pattern for it? i would love to knit it up!

    1. Pleased to hear that you are a fan of these patterns. 1950s patterns are still in copyright. We have permission from Thomas B Ramsden & Co., who own the copyright, to copy Emu patterns - but only for Knitting & Crochet Guild members, for personal use. If you are a member, or decide to join, please email me at and I can send you a copy


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