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When I was looking for fit books to review, someone on Twitter suggested Knit Back in Time by Geraldine Warner. It was the first time I had heard of the book, so naturally I had to get my hands on it. It’s focused on the aesthetics of the early to mid 20th century, and the book is divided up into two basic sections. The first section is on working with vintage patterns. Many vintage patterns only come with one size or an extremely limited size range, and they tend to be short on useful information that you’d normally find in a modern pattern. The book walks you through piecing together the missing information by studying what you do have and using that information to pick out the right yarn and create a detailed schematic of the original size. From there it gives you advice on how to calculate your own size using what you’ve figured out about the original and your own preferences and measurements. The information on calculating your own size is more general and doesn’t offer a lot of hand-holding, and the book suggests sewing mock-ups from jersey fabric to test out your new version, which seems a bit odd to me because the fabric will behave totally different from hand-knit fabric. The vintage-pattern-sleuthing in this section is really good and gets you to the right place to start calculating a custom size, but I’d recommend pairing this book with a book specifically on calculating sweaters from scratch if you’re not already familiar with how to do that.

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The second section is on modifying modern patterns to create a vintage-inspired look. This section starts off with basic shaping modifications that are more popular in modern knits, including vertical and horizontal darts. Then it goes on to explain details that can be altered or added to modern patterns to create a more vintage look. It includes examples of different set-in sleeve cap styles like pleated, gathered, and box-top sleeves. It also has examples of different collar, pocket, and cuff styles. This section is great for inspiration, but it does require you to think a bit outside of the box. Instead of giving an explanation on how to calculate all of these details from scratch, it gives written pattern instructions using one gauge for one size as if these were part of a single knitting pattern. You have to figure out how to calculate your own version to match the pattern you’re working with based on the samples given. I can’t for the life of me figure out why everything in this section isn’t written recipe-style.

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I should also add that the book does not include any sweater patterns even though it refers to some directly as if they were included. That caused me a little confusion because I went looking to see what the book was referring only to find they weren’t here. The book is a bit odd at times, but it’s also full of good inspiration and the advice on figuring on missing information for vintage patterns is great. There’s just a lot going on here, some unusual presentation choices, and not always a ton of detail, so I feel like this book could be overwhelming and not as useful for a beginner and/or timid knitter. I’d recommend it to experienced and adventurous knitters who like vintage style because it is beautiful and interesting, and I found it to be very inspiring.

7 Comments

  • Well, that seals it. You’re going to have to write a series of books yourself – books written by a knitter, not someone with design/pattern making training.
    I often find that books fall short of my desire because the author assumes the reader has certain knowledge, or, they try not to dumb-it-down too much. This narrows their readership to experienced knitters – there is a whole new emerging market as young women rediscover the joy of handmade and bespoke.
    In a leadership course, I was asked to write a recipe for chocolate crackles. I failed the exercise because I did not list a stove, a saucepan and a fridge in my list of requirements. I also failed to mention that the stove needs to be turned on etc etc. It was an extreme example but its purpose was to highlight just how often those giving instruction/direction assume their audience has particular basic knowledge. My recipe would have been very difficult to follow for a person who has never cooked before. The same principle applies to those who write books on knitting, crocheting and sewing – they should assume their audience has never before held a knitting needle. The more experienced crafters will skim over those bits.
    Sign me up to buy your series please

    • I disagree. There are many books that will teach you the basics. There aren’t as many books that will teach advanced techniques. I’m a beginner knitter but I’ve run into the problem with sewing books. If the author spends too much time teaching her readers the basics then either the book is huge and enormously expensive or she’s wasted a third of the book on repeating almost exactly what’s in every other book on sewing before getting to the point of her book (and the reason I was going to buy it.)

      After buying a few such books I’ve stopped buying sewing books unless I know for sure the author won’t hold my hand and assume I don’t know a thing about sewing. I have a couple of decent all purpose reference books and the internet. I don’t need to waste shelf space or money on duplicating my absolute basics section.

  • Jersey fabric is a knit fabric, so it will stretch in the same way as knitting. A woven fabric has more structure, and I would agree it would not produce the same results as knitting.

    • It’s so lightweight compared to handknitting and often a different fiber blend, so it doesn’t really behave the same way. For example, in the book it shows a mock up with a box-top sleeve cap, and in the handknit version the sleeve cap works perfectly, but in the mock up it looks like a failure because the fabric doesn’t have the right structure for that style of sleeve cap. There are also drag-lines all over the place that would indicate fit issues if you were sewing but those lines aren’t there on the knit version because, once again, completely different fabrics. You can do vague do-these-pieces-fit-together kinds of things, but that’s about it.

  • love you blog, and love on what you made on this book review.. you mentioned and I quote
    |The vintage-pattern-sleuthing in this section is really good and gets you to the right place to start calculating a custom size, but I’d recommend pairing this book with a book specifically on calculating sweaters from scratch if you’re not already familiar with how to do that.

    Can you recommend a book that specifically calculate sweaters from scratch?

    Thanks so much!

    • There are tons out there! For information, Sweater Design in Plain English covers almost everything. My only complaint is that the content on style and attitudes towards body-image are terribly dated.

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