IT IS always the first thing people exclaim when Becky Male talks about knitting patterns for bathing suits.

“They can’t believe people used to wear woollens to swim in back in the 40s and 50s,” she smiles.

“But really, this was the most effective material available to use – Lycra wasn’t invented until the 70s, after all. All our modern sportswear is based on technologically advanced materials – and this was the technology that existed before that.”

Glasgow Times:

Becky’s knitted swimming costume is one of five vintage patterns she will be discussing in a special Glasgow Women’s Library online talk tomorrow evening.

Life On and Off the Needle in the 20th Century, which runs from 6pm until 7.30pm, is part of GWL’s Open Archive sessions whichshowcase items from its collections.

Becky has spent the last two years looking into the stories behind the patterns, and the part knitting has played in women’s lives for the last century.

“I started knitting when I was 13 - my mum and my grans had always knitted,” she explains. “There was a pattern shop close to my high school, so I’d always pop in there and pick up patterns really cheaply – I think they cost about 25p.

“As people realised I liked to knit, they’d pass on patterns to me and I built up my own collection. So I jumped at the chance to look at a more formal collection for Glasgow Women’s Library, sorting out the boxes of patterns donated to us over the years.”

Glasgow Times:

Among the patterns Becky has discovered is a 1940s school jumper and a Shetland shawl from the 1950s.

“This is lovely, as it was designed by Agnes Hunter, a woman in her 80s who lived on Unst and then bought and made into a commercial pattern by James Norbury, chief pattern designer for Alloa company Patons and Baldwins,” explains Becky.

“We also have a My Little Pony jumper pattern, which has been handwritten on the back of scrap paper. It’s fascinating to see the detail, even the chart has been written down, and it feeds into this idea for many knitters, that if it doesn’t exist, you just work it out and make it for yourself.”

Glasgow Times:

Becky’s favourite item in the collection is the Duchess of Buccleugh’s Comforts Fund, a booklet published in 1940 and jam-packed full of knitting patterns for gloves, sweaters, caps, socks and more.

Becky explains: “This was produced for knitters in Dumfriesshire keen to knit items for servicemen during World War Two. It’s fantastic – there is so much information in it, including the names of the organisers and adverts for local businesses.

“At this point in the war, there had been no land battle, so these women were knitting in preparation for what they thought might be coming, based on their experiences of the First World War.”

Becky adds: “There are obvious parallels, of course, with today’s situation, and how many people have turned their knitting and sewing skills to making masks, or scrubs, for frontline workers during the pandemic.

“It is a trend. In times of crisis, women take on unpaid, often unrecognised work right across the country, to lend support - power in a situation of powerlessness.”

The event is free but fully booked. Check out GWL’s website for how to join the waiting list, and for more information.