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".

Essential forces
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 six 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

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

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Off duty jumper

"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

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Balaclava helmet

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

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Turbans

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

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Waistcoat

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

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Gloves

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