Most households in Australia are home to a homemade knitted item. Whether it be a garment, blanket, teddy bear or tea cozy, handmade knitted items all contain their own magic and stand as a testament to the skill, creativity and care taken by the knitter.  

NLA Publishing title Vintage Knits celebrates knitted garments and presents a curated selection of vintage patterns updated for the modern knitter.  

Vintage Knits book cover on the left and a child wearing a garment from the book on the right.
Vintage Knits breathes new life into vintage knitting patterns, including the 'Pamela' design shown here. 

A unique publication that taps into the trend for everything vintage, as well as the current ‘handmade revolution’, the book is the creative output of numerous Library staff and volunteers.  

Read on to uncover some of the knitty-gritty stories of how the book came to be, anecdotes from the volunteers, as well as some recommendations from Trove users of where to locate more knitting patterns to try at home! 

From the publisher

Brown rolls of wool sit next to a vintage knitting pattern with a knitting needle in the foreground.
Interwoven throughout the book are sections reflecting on the social and cultural history of knitting in Australia.

‘We were so pleased at how readers and knitters embraced it,' National Library of Australia Publisher Lauren says, 'It seemed to hit at just the right time – a moment when many people had picked up their needles again, or even for the first time, and had the same nostalgic fondness for these patterns that we did.’ 

While Lauren was hopeful the book would find its audience, she says the speed with which that happened was a very happy surprise – but not the only surprise.  

‘I think the other thing that I found surprising about the book, particularly as we began promoting it, was how many of the conversations we had were about the historic and social stories in the book. It wasn’t just the patterns that people were interested in – it was the long story of the craft, from the wider story of knitting in Australia to the more intimate chain of knitters that people were part of.’  

‘We met many people who were quick to tell us that they learnt from their mother or grandmother, for instance, and I think this book was a little bit of a connection for today’s knitters with their forebears. By knitting some of their patterns, we are a bit closer to them, in a way.’ 

From the volunteer model

A man wearing a green jumper.
Volunteer model Aaron wearing the 'Clyde' from p. 72 of Vintage Knits.

Aaron modelled the men’s garments in the book – two sweaters and a vest – and unexpectedly became a model for the book after agreeing to ‘help out with a project’.  

‘Next thing I know, I was in the Library's Digitisation studio surrounded by a props table and stacks of colourful knitted garments.’ 

‘I was directed to "stand there, look here, wear this, hold that". It was a slightly odd experience as it's not something I'd done before. I'm not a huge fan of photos of myself, but I have to say that Craig, the photographer, did a sterling job at making me and the garments look their best.’ 

Aaron admits that while not being a knitter by any means, having the opportunity to be involved in such a great project was a delightful experience.  

‘It's not every job where you randomly get roped into being a model.’  

‘Finally seeing the finished book was another odd but surprisingly exciting experience, and it also made for an extra special Mother's Day gift – although my mum didn't recognise me in the book at first...’ 

The only downside to the whole exercise was not getting to keep the jumper.  

‘They were all so nice, but I particularly love the green sweater (the 'Clyde' – pictured above). I was very sad I couldn't keep it and wear it. It would be perfect for Canberra winters...maybe I'll have to learn to knit sometime...’ 

From the volunteer knitter

A woman sitting on a yellow couch and knitting.
Volunteer knitter Kate knitted the 'Florence' pattern for the book.

After decades spent working at the National Library, volunteer knitter Kate got involved with Vintage Knits after responding to a call for knitters to participate in a project.  

Kate took up knitting as a child, with both grandmothers introducing her to the craft and both her mother and mother-in-law also teaching and sharing skills along the way.   

Kate recreated the ‘Florence’ pattern for the book, and told media outlet RiotACT, ‘ was described as “a fascinating little jumper in which to go skittering hither and yon – at a moment’s notice, perhaps”.’ 

Testing and knitting the pattern was not without its challenges though, with Kate explaining, ‘The Florence pattern is only for one size, for starters. It’s very fitted and you basically need a 36-inch bust to wear it.’ 

‘There was a fair bit of assumed knowledge – they didn’t provide detailed instructions on how to put the thing together. I had to look up a few things.’ 

Challenges aside, Kate is excited for people to see the garment in the book and knit it themselves because it is ‘the best thing’ she’s ever knitted.  

Read the full interview with Kate and fellow knitting volunteer Judith on the RiotACT website.

From the Trove community

Knitting needles and a knitted blue garment rest on a vintage knitting pattern.
Trove is home to thousands of knitting patterns. 

Trove is a tight knit community! While their puns are great (yes, they came up with that pun before we did), their collections of knitting patterns are even better! 

Featured in magazines (like the Australian Women’s Weekly and the Australian Women’s Mirror), newspapers, and the publication of thoughtfully curated knitting pattern books, there are thousands of knitting patterns freely available through Trove.  

Head over to the Trove blog now and take a look at a few community favourites