Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Vintage Design Workshop: A Book Review

For my birthday this year my mum gave me a copy of Vintage Design Workshop: Knitting techniques for modern style, by Geraldine Warner. This book is a fairly new release, written by the owner of Skiff Vintage Knitting.

This book differs from many vintage knitting books in that it does not contain actual garment patterns, but rather detailed techniques about working with vintage patterns. The book is divided into two main sections, 'Updating Vintage Patterns' and 'Retro-styling Modern Patterns', which are in turn divided into smaller chapters as follows:

Updating Vintage Patterns:

1. Preparation. Includes assessing your pattern, swatching and tension, and taking measurements.

2. Substituting yarns. How to find suitable yarns, quantities and period-appropriate colours.

3. Adjusting vintage sizes. Adjusting widths, lengths, sleeves, shoulders and necklines, and working with stitch patterns.

Retro-styling Modern Patterns

4. Adjusting sizes. Work out how to get a vintage fit, including ease, shaping, darts and lengths.

5. Patterns For Vintage Elements. Basic patterns for pattern elements, including sleeves, neckline treatments, pleats, pockets and cuffs. This chapter also has instructions for stitch patterns, fair isle designs, embroidery and edgings.

6. Adding elements to patterns. Adding shoulder pads, buttons and finishing tips.

The back of the book had good lists of resources, a needle size conversion chart, glossaries, a thorough index and instructions on making knitters graph paper for charting!

This book is beautiful throughout. While there are no garment patterns in the book, there is a wealth of images of inspiring vintage patterns and advertisements, as well as reproduced garments.

The chapters dedicated to the more mathematical aspects, such as resizing and pattern adaptation are clear and concise, with written instructions and diagrams for clarity. The author also includes case-study style working examples to show how the numbers work.

The author uses one pattern as a continuous example throughout the book, this Bestway "Tea-Time Jumper". This gives a good visual example for many of the aspects covered in the book, particularly the effect of yarn choice.

The Patterns

The 'Elements' section with the patterns is a lovely addition in the book. The patterns are all written for double knitting weight yarn on 4mm needles. The sleeve types included are short set-in, short puff, short pleated cap, box top, and fitted long sleeves. The collars include peter pan, pointed and tied. There are instructions for various pleats and pockets, as well as cuff styles and hem treatments.

There are written instructions for nine decorative stitch patterns, and charted instructions for five fair isle designs. This is my favourite design: so cute!

This book is ideal for those of you who, like me, love the vintage styles but want or need to make a few changes. One issue many of us may be familiar with is sizing issues. Vintage patterns so often come in a single size, often in sizes smaller than you may need. A 34 or 36 inch bust seems to be most common in my collection, but that's no good for my 40 inch measurement! This book takes you through the necessary steps for making a pattern fit, and brings to light things you need to consider when making alterations that may not seem obvious until you run into trouble. For example, what would happen to the points on this jumper if you simply cast on more stitches without considering the stitch pattern?

I've already used this book to help with adapting the sleeves on my current knit from short to long sleeves, using the instructions on page 115.

All in all a highly recommended read for those who want to widen their knowledge in this area, and divert from following patterns to the letter. This book is great if you have the essential knitting skills but aren't sure how to go about making changes to patterns. I know I'll certainly be referring to it often as I rarely follow a pattern directly, mostly due to the sizing issues I already mentioned. This book opens up a world of opportunity for adapting and designing knitting patterns exactly as you'd like, and will be an invaluable resource for me.

Thanks Mum!


  1. Thanks for sharing this! Never heard of the book, but I ordered it right away! You have a really nice blog by the way!