Before Knitting there were Books!

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A working visit to the British Library yesterday reminded me of a very strong, almost obsessive connection that I have always had with printed matter and particularly, books. I have always been completely obsessed with them. As a very small child, books were the centre of my universe. I have read voraciously all my life, and collected books with even more enthusiasm than knitting patterns or wool. But then of course, knitting patterns come in the form of booklets, pamphlets and full scale books and this two pronged obsession has, I have recently realised, produced my own ever growing archive about knitting, sewing, craft and yesteryear in general. I have hundreds of books and thousands of patterns and at some point I am going to need to make sense of it all, to start creating a proper archiving system – that’s how big it is getting! However on this dark and dismal March morning, when Spring has declined to join us, I thought I would share some of the ‘Collection’ (sounds rather grand, but I guess that’s what it is).

These first two books focus on craft in general in Elizabeth Craig’s book and specifically on dressmaking in Home Dressmaking – interestingly, this book is devoted to hand sewing only – no sewing machines in sight!

Elizabeth Craig’s book has some beautiful images of techniques, such as these elaborate drawings of working buttonholes, but I particularly like Home Dressmaking’s section on ‘New from Old’ which explains how to fashion something new out of old clothes and gives a three page list of possibilities:

These next three books are from my Flora Klickmann titles. Flora was the Editor of ‘The Girl’s Own Paper’ and ‘Woman’s Magazine’.

Another of my favourites is the John Paton Knitting and Crochet Book. This is the third edition with it sumptuous woodblock cover, which was printed in 1903.

It has a vast array of knitting recipes within its covers. This is the contents list for the Chapters within and is compiled by M Elliot Scrivenor who was the needlework correspondent to the ‘Queen’ newspaper and late manageress of the Technical Institute of Needlework, London.

This next image is a tiny sample of some of the woman’s magazines and pamphlets I have, including Woman’s Weeky, Woman’s Own and the Lady.

This model crops up almost every week in Woman’s Weekly and I would love to know who she was.

I now have a sub-collection of both Munrospun and Lux books.

I adore the Lux books and the idea that you got the books through purchasing packets of Lux washing powder. I can’t imagine a major washing powder manufacturer going to such lengths these days.

This next book goes off on a slightly different tangent, but I love Mending and Repair books of all kinds. This one looks at all sorts of home repairs including

wallpapering the ceiling – the chap photographed here appears throughout the book – always with the same amount of solemnity as he shows here –

to how to press a suit. I love books that show domestic tasks beyond those we would probably think of as needing written instruction and that such care was taken with possessions.


On that subject, this is probably my favourite of the mending books that I have. The Art and Practice of Mending was a Pitman publication from 1933.

The front cover alone makes the book worth owning but the illustrations are absolutely beautiful.


Here is a selection of some of my Odhams books – I have many more!

and the Encyclopaedia of Knitting by none other than James Norbury also published by Odhams

This one is a US publication which is very similar to the Odhams books but is written by Alice Carroll who was the Consultant on the American Red Cross Knitting Manual. Her Complete Guide to Modern Knitting and Crochet was published in 1947.

The Pictorial Guide to Modern Home Needlecraft is another Odhams publication – I have two versions of this book, one published in 1938 and the reprint from 1946.

The 1946 reprint has this marvellous plate added at the front of the book, marking its chronological identity perfectly, and with the caption:

‘With the right tools, a little patience, and a good knowledge of the basic principles of needlecraft, dressmaking for yourself and the family will prove as easy as ABC, and you will be able to take pride in saying “I made it myself”.” With the timing of this republication maybe it suggests that there were many women who had not had time to learn these skills during the war years and were in need of instruction.

No collection would be complete without Mary Thomas’s books. I also have her Embroidery book.


A couple of contemporary books looking backwards are No Idle Hands which looks at the history of American knitting and also Knitting by the Fireside and on the Hillside which is not an easy book to get your hands on, which looks specifically at knitting on the Shetland Isles with an economic slant.

These three books are amongst my most treasured. The Encyclopedia of Needlework is quite an easy book to find, especially as several million copies of this title were printed worldwide but it has some stunning plates and intriguing stitches to try.

This tiny book though has some great gems in it

such as this pattern for Siberian Cuffs. This little treasure is from 1847 and as was usually the case at this time, has no illustrations.

The last of these three books and my absolute favourite is The Lady’s Knitting Book from 1880. Again without illustrations, but I turn to this book again and again for inspiration.

I also love the fact that the book is signed and dated – January 30th 81 (I am assuming 1881 by the style of writing, ink used etc) and love the idea that this was probably a christmas present based on the date. And again a lot contained within – 216 receipts.

It is also interesting that during roughly the same period the ‘patterns’ are sometimes called recipes and then other times called receipts. So close in spelling, did one come from the other I wonder?

So these are just a tiny part of my collection. The magazines and single patterns are too numerous to photograph individually but I’ll try and share a few more at a later date.

for now
Ruby xx

All images copyright Susan Crawford © 2012 and must not be used with express permission being granted by the copyright holder.

11 Responses

  1. Jenny at Red House
    | Reply

    Good grief! British Library eat your heart out! what an outstanding collection and so good of you to share it with us, I will certainly be keeping an eye out in the future for old sewing books of the 'modern' variety! jennyx

  2. Just call me Ruby
    | Reply

    My pleasure. There are some amazing sewing and needlecraft books around.

  3. Sarah
    | Reply

    Blogger hates me! Actually I hate Blogger. Have tried the word verification thing about fifteen times (and the spoken one but that is completely unintelligible).

    Very envious of your book collection.

    Yes I think "recipe" does come from "receipt" as I think they come from the German word "Rezept" which means recipe or prescription.

  4. Just call me Ruby
    | Reply

    Hi Sarah,

    That makes perfect sense. Probably began as receipt as sounds so close to rezept and then evolved into recipe which made more grammatical sense in english.

    Thank you for that 🙂

    Not sure what was happening with Blogger. Seems to be working now.

  5. Anna
    | Reply

    My Mum has the Encyclopedia of Knitting (her cover is very ratty now though!) and we both look things up in it quite often, it's got a ton of information in it!

    I collect the odd sewing and knitting book here and there, I just love the old books but having totally run out of room on my shelves and having no room for more shelves I have to watch myself now!

  6. Mommy en France
    | Reply

    These are wonderful! I have only just begun sewing this past year, and resumed knitting, but I have realised that it's as easy to get obsessed about the books and patterns as it is yarn and fabrics. Thanks for sharing these. I am coveting the 1933 mending one!

  7. Ponytail
    | Reply

    Was lovely to meet you yesterday (I'm the 'banned' knitter who asked you about putting the reworked patterns on Ravelry). These books look lovely – I wish you'd brought them along too !

  8. Julie
    | Reply

    How wonderful. I share your obsession with books of all kinds and I even have some of the ones you have shown, but your collection shows true dedication. I'd love to see more posts about them.

  9. Mim
    | Reply

    I now have serious book envy! What a fantastic collection. It's good to know they're all in the hands of someone who loves and treasures them.

    Recipe does come from receipt, I've got some early cookbooks that contain 'receipts'.

  10. Barbara
    | Reply

    I have a copy of Practical Family Knitting Illustrated, one of the Murray & Koster books for Odhams, that was given to my mother for her birthday in 1947. It has been very thoroughly used – the spine is falling off, and there is a tea stain on one of the patterns that we know she knitted because we still have the resulting jumper. I have managed to find another copy in better condition – but obviously I am keeping the original too.

    I would love to know about the Woman's Weekly models too. The one you show I think of as the face of the 1930s – there is another who appeared frequently during the war with an amazing heart-shaped hairstyle, and one who appeared towards the end of the war, when she looks very young, and then throughout the 1950s. I hope they were well-paid.

  11. fabriquefantastique
    | Reply

    i am seriously jealous,but I did manage to pick up some great old knitting patterns in NZ including a 50s Lux booklet.

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