Knit Your Own Vintage Jumper!

Indira Varma in ‘Present Laughter’ (2019) at the Old Vic, designed by Rob Howell; Photo by Manuel Harlan

When I saw The Old Vic’s production of Noel Coward’s ‘Present Laughter’ in 2019, I couldn’t get enough of Rob Howell’s gorgeous 1930s designs! As I watched the play unfold, I became particularly obsessed with the knitted short-sleeve jumpers worn by Indira Varma. Just look at how adorable this knitted top is when paired with a printed, high-waited trouser – how could I not long to have one of my own?

As an amateur knitter who enjoys a good challenge, I began to wonder if it would be possible to find a free vintage knitting pattern online that would enable me create such a top for myself. As it turned out, I found a plethora of them at (wouldn’t you know it), the Vintage Knitting Pattern Archive!

This wonderful site boasts gorgeous vintage patterns from the 1930’s through to the 1970’s. There are many different styles of jumpers as well as some other more unusual pieces, and their patterns come from a range of different sources including The British Library. A dream for anyone who loves vintage clothes and vintage making!

I eventually decided to knit two different short-sleeve jumpers. The first pattern I chose was this lovely 1936 jumper from Stitchcraft with one of the best names I’ve ever heard: ‘Starring Stripes! A Gay Jumper Worked from Side to Side’. Fabulous.

The original 1936 ‘Starring Stripes’ jumper
My interpretation of the ‘Starring Stripes’ jumper

The first above image is from the original pattern, which you can find and download here:

Below that, you’ll see my finished attempt at it. You’ll notice that I chose to use different colours than the pattern recommended. Feel free to come up with your own palette, or create a more exact replica by following the suggested colours!

The second jumper I chose was from the 1935 ‘Fay’s Second Book of Knitting and Crochet’, which featured one pattern recommended for a blonde and one for a brunette. I didn’t let my lack of blondness stop me from choosing the gorgeous ‘Blonde’ pattern, and neither should you!

The original 1935 ‘Blonde’ jumper from Fay’s
My interpretation of the ‘Blonde’ jumper

You can find both the ‘Blonde’ and ‘Brunette’ patterns here:

Again, I didn’t restrict myself to the ‘frail green’ colour suggested by the pattern and instead chose this lovely shade of pink. Pick whichever colour you think will look best!

Lastly, as an American working with vintage UK knitting terminology, I found it challenging to determine which yarns and which needle sizes I would need! Here are some resources that I found useful:

Yarn Conversion Chart:

Needle Conversion Chart:

I hope all of you have a go at making yourselves a fabulous vintage knitted top à la ‘Present Laughter’. Have fun with it, and if you share your results, please do tag us at @the_tiring_house – we’d love to see! Happy knitting.

Table of Contents