A Stitch in time

‘A Stitch in Time’ has had quite a venerable history. It goes back to 1970 when Jane inherited a huge collection of women’s magazines and knitting patterns dating from the 20s to the early 60s.

Browsing through them, she started seeing how women’s knitwear gradually changed over the decades, reflecting not only the way women saw themselves, but also external factors, such as the scarcity of materials found during the war years. ‘This could make a book’, she decided; and the original version of ‘A Stitch in Time’ was published, to great acclaim, by Duckworth in 1972, (helping to launch a revival of interest in hand-knitting). Here are extracts from three typical reviews.

Jane Waller thinks [her book] has three contributions to make. First, as a record for posterity of the old patterns which, she says “show a care and devotion to details and adornments which one rarely finds in modern garments or even modern knitting patterns”; secondly, as a fashion history of the three decades for students of knitwear; thirdly, as a practical knitting book for today’s home knitter. [ … ] a valuable fashion record.
(Alison Adburgham, The Guardian, 12/11/72)

The Old Piano Factory in Gloucester Crescent, Regent’s Park, was fairly humming yesterday; the pianist strumming out Ivor Novello and Noel Coward on the old piano was wearing a scarlet and navy knitted bathing suit over his trousers and flowered shirt (“much too cold in here for anything less”) ….. we were all packed in for a fashion show of models wearing knitted numbers from ‘A Stitch in Time’, a collection of authentic knitting patterns from the twenties, thirties and forties, published yesterday by Duckworths.

The audience was almost as eye-popping as the woollies. [ … ] The clothes themselves, from cami-knickers to crochet jerkins, were beautifully made, and right up-to-date – only surely never in the history of fashion have there been models so skinny as today’s?

(The Times Diary, 10/11/72)

Jane, a sculptress, was inspired to write her treatise on knitting, with the original patterns and modern yarn equivalents, by a giant pile of old fashion magazines she found in a country cottage. The book is an inspiration to knitters and fashion students.

(Janet Street-Porter, Evening Standard, 13/11/72)

This was Jane’s first book, and it did well enough for Duckworth to bring out a paperback version in 1982 as well as publishing a further three over the years: Some Things for the Children (1974); A Man’s Book – Fashion in the man’s world in the 20s and 30s (1977); and The 30s Family Knitting Book (1981). In all of them she included a social history (researched from a variety of sources], so that the reader could learn about fashion within its wider, contemporary context.

By the 1980s Jane had moved onto other things, working on her ceramics and life-drawing, as well as writing children’s fiction and various types of non-fiction. But she had always had in mind one final knitting book, to be dedicated to the 1940s. Jump forward to 2006, and the Crowood Press – for whom she had already written two books on ceramics: Colour in Clay (1998) and The Human Form in Clay (2001) – brought out Knitting Fashions of the 1940s: Styles, Patterns & History. And it was while she was promoting this new book at a Knitting and Stitching event that Jane met the talented and enthusiastic Susan Crawford, founder and editor of knitonthenet.com.

Susan, for a long time, had been a fan of the 1972 A Stitch in Time (copies of which had, incidentally, been selling for silly figures on E-Bay and the like). And the result of this encounter was that Susan, and her husband Gavin (a computer whizz-kid from a family of printers) set up their own publishing house, their first publication - in 2008 – being a full colour hardback update of A Stitch in Time, subtitled Vintage Knitting and Crochet Patterns 1920-1949, with the artful addition of Vol.1.

Three years later Volume 2 came out, featuring a range of colour photographs taken by Susan herself, focussing on garments knitted up specially for the new book, from 1930 to 1959.