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Book Review: Retro Knits by Kari Cornell and Jean Lampe

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Vintage is hugely popular. Vintage clothing, jewelry, décor, table ware… whatever you can think of that is old and kitschy. Retro Knits by Kari Cornell and Jean Lampe does a beautiful job of cashing in on the craze.

Retro Knits collects 50 patterns from the 1900s through the 1970s. The chapters are divided by decade. Each pattern includes the original vintage photos, which is always fun, but the patterns are not reprinted exactly as they originally appeared. Vintage knitting patterns – especially patterns before the 1950s – did not use the standard abbreviations in use today, nor did they come with schematics. The editors of this volume took all this into consideration and re-wrote the patterns for a modern audience. They also took size into consideration, since a 1945 size 14 is roughly the equivalent to a modern-day size 6, and women today are taller; as a result, minor adjustments have been made to accommodate. Each pattern includes notes on the adjustments the editors made.

I am just dying to make the Bunny Hugger Cardigan and the Seasider Cardigan, both from the 1940s and both encapsulating that perfect vintage cardigan look. I also adore the 1920s Winnifred Negligee, which is not a negligee as we think of it today. It is a drapey tunic with unique, pointed sleeves and a tasseled rope belt. Other notable patterns: 1946’s Lady’s Pullover with wide ribbing and delicate faux cables at the yoke; 1952’s sweet Dolman Bolero; 1924’s Men’s Checked Cardigan; and 1945’s classic Men’s Argyle Socks.

Sadly, they are not all winners. The Winsome Sweater Vest, circa 1910s, reminds me of Mormon religious undergarments. The 1930s Women’s Bathing Suit is unique and interesting, but ultimately impractical. The men’s patterns are largely repetitive; most are cardigans, and most of those cardigans look nearly identical.

The book is loaded with original ads and images from vintage knitting magazines. These are great fun to look at, but can be a bit frustrating when I see a sweater I adore, only to find that there is no included pattern. This book is a great collection that’s well worth the investment, and I look forward to future volumes of vintage patterns from this duo.

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