1940s knitting patterns

Hand-knitting was at a peak in Britain in the 1940s. During the Second World War, women on the home front were encouraged to contribute to the war effort by knitting for the troops, which was promoted as public duty. Advertising at the time stated: "England expects – knit your bit".

Front cover from Jaeger Hand-Knit Essentials for The Forces, series No.44, mid-1940s, England. Museum no. AAD/EPH/15/8. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Many knitting patterns were given away free, while wool was also sent to schools so that children could knit gloves, scarves and balaclava helmets for the forces. Wool was also supplied to organisations such as the Women's Institutes of England and Wales, who made over 22 million knitted garments for the Red Cross (an average of 67 garments per member). Parcels of their knitwear were sent to prisoners of war, as well as to troops.

The warmth of woollen garments also made them popular for civilians who were faced with a shortage of heating fuel. In the face of wool rationing, knitters were encouraged to unravel old sweaters.

The original 1940s patterns, available to download below, show the wide range of items knitted during the War: a fatigue cap that could double as a scarf, a balaclava helmet and a waistcoat for men, as well as knitted turbans, a When You're 'Off Duty' jumper (its title hinting at the change in women's roles at this time), and gloves for women. They also show the many specialised patterns developed in response to the specific needs of the time. For example, the gloves have long wristbands for extra warmth, while the balaclava helmet has earflaps "to enable good hearing during telephone calls".

Download the free patterns below to create your own classic 1940s fashion.

Fatigue Cap

"This garment can be worn as a scarf, and has many other uses".

Suggested yarn: Jaeger 'Super Spun'
Yarn weight: Light Fingering, 3-ply
Gauge: 7 stitches and 10 rows = 1 inch in stocking stitch
Needle size: a pair of UK No. 10/US No.3
Sizes available: 8 inches across x 36 inches long

"When You're 'Off Duty'" Jumper

Suggested yarn: Copley's 2-Ply Excelsior Shetland Wool
Yarn weight: lace, 2-ply
Needle size: a pair of UK No. 13 & 11 / US No. 1 & 2.5
Hook size: crochet hook UK No. 13 / US B/1

The Balaclava Helmet

"This design is made with ear flaps to enable good hearing during telephone calls".

Suggested yarn: Jaeger 'Super Spun'
Yarn weight: Fingering, 4-ply
Gauge: 15 stitches and 15 rows = 2 inches in garter stitch
Needle size: a pair of UK No. 10 & 11 / US No. 3 & 2.5

Knitted Turbans

"One in Moss-Stitch and one with a Bandeau of Stocking-Stitch".

Suggested yarn: Patons UK Beehive
Yarn weight: Light Fingering, 3-ply
Gauge: 7 stitches = 1 inch
Needle size: a pair of UK No. 10 / US No. 3

Spiral-spun waistcoat

"Here is a well-shaped waistcoat, which is quickly knitted. Choose Air Force blue or khaki wool".

Suggested yarn: Jaeger 'Spiral-Spun'
Gauge: 18 stitches and 28 rows = 4 inches in Lazy Rib pattern
Needle size: a pair of UK No. 5 & 8 / US No. 9 & 5

Gloves for Women

"With long wrist bands are in demand, and this pair is simply knitted on two needles".

Suggested yarn: Jaeger 'Super Spun'
Yarn weight: Fingering, 4-ply
Gauge: 8 stitches and 15 rows = 1 inch
Needle size: a pair of UK No. 13 / US No. 1

Fair Isle gloves and cap

"A Fair Isle pattern is particularly hard wearing as it gives the strength of double knitting".

Suggested yarn: 'Greenock'
Yarn weight: Super Fingering, 3-ply (allow 1 ounces. in blue, and 0.5 ounces each in maize, yellow and red)
Gauge: On No. 12 needles: 19 stitches to 2 inches in width and 23 rounds to 2 inches in depth. On No. 10 needles: 17 stitches to 2 inches in width and 10 rounds to 1 inch in depth
Needle size: 1 set each of four UK No. 10 & No. 12 / US No. 3 & 2

Bed socks

“Make a very acceptable present and this pair can be easily adapted to any size”.

Suggested yarn: Jaeger 'Spiral-Spun'
Yarn weight: 3 ounces
Gauge: 6 stitches to 1 inch in width, and 11 rows to 2 inches in depth, measured over the garter-stitch
Needle size: a pair of UK No. 7 & 10 / US No. 7 & 3

Victory jumper

"This jumper is worked in one of the most simple lace-stitch patterns, consisting of two rows, so it is easily learned and quickly worked".

Suggested yarn: 'Sirdar' Super Shetland wool
Yarn weight: 3-ply, 3 ounces. in navy, 2 ounces in red, and about 0.5 ounce in white
Gauge: 7.5 stitches in width and 9.5 rows in depth to one inch
Needle size: a pair of UK No. 10 & 12 / US No. 3 & 2

Pants and vest in mesh stitch

Suggested yarn: 'Sirdar' Super Shetland wool
Yarn weight: 5 ounces of 2-ply (3 ounces for pants and 2 ounces for vest)
Gauge: 5 stitches and 8 rows to 1 inch, measured over st. 2 on size 5 needles
Needle size: a pair of UK No. 5 and 1 set of four with points at both ends size 9 / US No. 9 & 5

Men's mittens

"These are designed on the same principle as the women's mittens, giving freedom to the finger".

Suggested yarn: Jaeger 'Super Spun'
Yarn weight: Fingering, 4-ply
Gauge: 17 stitches to 2 inches in width, and 12 rounds to 1 inch in depth.
Needle size: a pair of UK No. 13 / US No. 1

Mittens for women

"Turn in the tops and the fingers are free, yet keeping the hands warm".

Suggested yarn: Jaeger Super Spun
Yarn weight: Fingering, 4-ply
Gauge: 9 stitches to 1 inch in width, and 14 rounds to 1 inch in depth
Needle size: a pair of UK No. 13 / US No. 1

Fishnet stockings

"These are Vogue’s choice for town".

Suggested yarn: Maygrove's Sylspun Hosiery
Yarn weight: 3 ounces
Gauge: 8 stitches and 10 rows to 1 inch measured over st. 2
Needle size: a pair of UK No. 11 / US No. 2.5

A practical pullover

"Which is an essential garment for colder days".

Suggested yarn: Jaeger 'Feather-Fleck'
Yarn weight: 9 ounces
Gauge: 7 stitches to 1 inch in width, and 21 rows to 2 inches in depth
Needle size: a pair each of UK No. 9 & 12 / US No. 5 & 2

'A happy thought' tea-cosy

"This lovely tea-cosy with its chrysanthemum top-knot costs very little – oddments of many coloured wools can be used for the flowers".

Suggested yarn: 'W.B.' Kwiknit wool and half an ounce of each of three colours in 'W.B.' Rosedale
Yarn weight: Fingering, 2-ply
Gauge: Worked at a tension of 5 stitches to the inch in width, with No. 7 pins
Needle size: a pair each of UK No. 7 & 10 / US No. 7 & 3