My secret vice (OK, not so secret now)…

Well, it would have been secret if I wasn’t about to blog about it. Hmm.

But it’s not an arrestable offence, though it has caused some near fights when I meet another addict on the same quest at the same time.

Finding old knitting patterns in charity shops.

And, on the subject of the one above, seldom can a brand name and model have been so inappropriately combined. P G Wodehouse never mentions that Bertie Wooster did a little modelling. On reflection, I think it is probably more likely to have been Bertie’s friend Gussie Fink-Nottle who was doing the moonlighting here (though from what, I cannot imagine); he was described as being a teetotal bachelor who had a passion for newts and ‘a face like a fish’, after all.

I actually collect these patterns because I like them, admire the skills involved and adore the designs. (Though I do draw the line at anything from the – shudder – 1970s and 80s. I say no to agressive shoulder pads and spit in the face of intarsia kittens.) But sometimes my quest throws up examples to which none of these things apply, and I still cannot resist.

These two slightly out-of-focus darlings, for example, are somewhat cruelly dubbed ‘the Stepford Wives’. In actual fact the little shrug is quite sweet, but I broke my personal rules here – only black and white patterns – because I loved the appalling colour balance. Where have they been? Bathing in beetroot? And how on earth did they hold those rather odd positions, which look really uncomfortable, especially in the case of the woman on the right? It had to be drugging – hence the name.

Some patterns are borderline acceptable, but still oddly mysterious. Yes, the small boy has a hammer – of course he does; he’s a real, 1950s, boy – but what is the woman at the bottom right hanging onto?

I’m hanging onto the idea that it’s some sort of lecturing podium and she’s about to make a rousing political speech – rather like a young Barbara Castle – but I’m probably wrong. These patterns belong to a post-war moment when working women were comparatively unusual in many sectors of society. Those who did work were expected to leave their jobs when they got married, and were thought aberrant and deviant if they were middle-class and went in for any form of politics other than making tea for the Conservative Party garden fete.

While I love many of the knitting patterns, I wouldn’t want to go back to that world and I’m very lucky in that my mother set a good example and had no time for it either (yes, she knitted, but she also did working while we were children, radical politics and the civil-rights movement). OK, end of rant, but what do you expect when one of the magazines advertised ‘crochet for the intelligent woman’ – it seemed no different to any other type of crochet, mind you – and this delightful way of spending your time:

Happily the transfer had become separated over the years, or I might have been tempted to answer the question ‘Why not make this attractive cage cover?’ with ‘Why not, indeed?’ and rush away in search of my embroidery threads. Not so much religion being the opium of the people as embroidered budgie-cage covers being the opium of the 1950s housewife. Hopefully this is an entirely wrong impression!

I suspect the next one my lead to another rant, but what the heck?

It’s a cardigan in which to celebrate the coronation, with a choice of appropriate symbols for the pocket – and charted, too – but no daffodil or dragon. Maybe they realised how unlikely it was to be knitted in Wales, or perhaps they just forgot. Hm. Personally, I will be knitting it for the next one (yeah, right). It does look curiously as though the loyalist pocket has been superimposed on a perfectly plain cardi, which may well have been the case.

Lighten up, Kate.

How about this?

Even the model doesn’t look too sure about it, but I think they were missing a trick putting it on a woman, though they could have been thinking about the auntie of a friend of mine, who was apparently always having to be brought back from the docks by her parents (I didn’t ask; an answer would have just disappointed me).

And for my final entry – and this really is a nice pattern, and more will follow – take these mittens:

Please can I knit these, even though I’m straight?

How language does change…


16 thoughts on “My secret vice (OK, not so secret now)…

  1. Annie

    I’m sitting here grinning like a loon … brilliant post, thank you! I had a great aunt who kept falling off the back of a lorry – I didn’t ask either – maybe she was related to your friends auntie!

    Should add I am similarly afflicted when it comes to pattern collecting … suppose I’d better hope we never bump into each other in a charity shop 😉

    1. kate Post author

      I might have guessed! We’d better divide the Welsh charity shops up, then, with Chester a sort of no-woman’s land, where all is fair…
      (Actually I’ve found that the seedier and smellier the charity shop, the greater the likelihood of pattern joy – smart ones tend to 1970-80s excess, big hair, big sweaters in fluffy acrylic – wonder if you’ve noticed this?)

      1. Annie

        Well I did once get quite a good haul in Prestatyn, which kinda tells you something 😉 I must also admit to cheating and picking up a few from ebay … no thrill of the hunt, but no need to wash the dust and the pong off afterwards either! (Off me that is, not the pattern :O )

        1. kate Post author

          Prestatyn, hmmmmm…. there could be something in this.

          (The husband of someone I know once found a whole BOXFUL – not a small box, either, apparently – in an auction, and didn’t buy them. His defence was ‘I thought they were a bit old.’)

  2. Knitsister

    Thank you for this highly entertaining post…it made me laugh out loud (and I have just had some really sad news) thinking of you wearing the yellow or green number 😉

    1. kate Post author

      Oh, poor Heike – but I’m glad I could bring a little lightness (actually, I can see you in that shrug, I’m afraid…)

  3. Harriet

    Thank you for all that laughter! Instead of making up orders I sat and cried with laughter at your post! I think those jolly sailors should be knitted up – think of the fun you’d have wearing it!! Did our mothers really make such gems?

    1. kate Post author

      I’m pretty bad at intarsia – maybe you should knit up the sailors! Bags I the Gay Mitts…

      (My mother was responsible for a knitted bathing suit in a mid-60s fit of heaven-knows-what, but my style-conscious dad wouldn’t let me wear it. He pointed out that she wouldn’t – think Katharine Hepburn in sharp slacks and you’ve got my ma – so why would she expect me to?)

  4. fafaknits

    I’ve never really looked properly for knitting patterns in charity shops (well the few times I did I only found 80’s one which may explain why I quickly gave up), but you have managed to convince me I probably should! I’m not in Wales so it shouldn’t be a problem.
    Oh and about the (very nice looking) mittens I think you can knit them but you should probably prepare yourself for some side-effects on the wearer…

    1. kate Post author

      You have to burrow down below all the synthetic acrylic shoulder pads, and there, lurking at the bottom, may well be some gems… Stop! Why am I giving away my secrets!! (But you’re far enough away, I think…)

      Oh dear about the mitts… we shall seeeeeeeee…..

    1. kate Post author

      It’s a real relief to know there are other loons out there (as well as other people with disreputable relatives, falling off the back of a lorry indeed. Though maybe having to be dragged back from the docks is worse)!

  5. Lisa

    I’m at home, sick with a wracking cough, re-reading PG Wodehouse, and pondering Fair Isle knitting. So I really had to laugh at this blog posting. Thank you for cheering up my day.

    1. kate Post author

      Hope you feel better – I’m sure PG will help. I’m glad it’s not just me who turns to Bertie, Gussie Fink-Nottle and (of course) Jeeves when under the weather. Which is a rather Berie expression, when you think about it – hmm, must be catching!


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