Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Needlework Illustrated - 1940's Magazines

“Not another collection!” I hear you cry.  Fear not, my collection of these magazines is very small, just 19, but they are so wonderful that I hope you’ll enjoy seeing them and you never know, you might want to start your own collection! :o)

I first became intrigued by this publication after reading this post on HenHouse blog.  This lucky lady had acquired a large collection of these magazines which she then cleverly used to create some highly desirable wartime posies. 

Well, having a penchant for corsages and knitting magazines, the quest to acquire my own collection began. 

I like to know a little bit about what I’m collecting but the Internet has failed to provide me with any great detail about these magazines.  What I have been able to glean, from careful scouring of the delicate pages, is that they were part of the Weldon’s empire.  As far as I understand it, the magazine’s origins lay in the early part of the 19th century when the title was originally Fancy Needlework Illustrated.  I know this name remained until well into the 1930’s because issue 142 from November 1937 still carried it.  At some point, maybe at the outbreak of war, who knows, the “fancy” was dropped and the magazine updated, so to speak, to become Needlework Illustrated.

In the early years of WW2, the publication was large, measuring a generous 23.5cms by 30cms with 34 pages and was published bi-monthly, on the 30th of the month.  In the summer of 1942, due to wartime paper shortages, the publication was scaled down to 19cms by 24cms with the frequency of the issues reduced to quarterly.  I’m not entirely sure when, but post war, it was marginally decreased in size again to 18cms by 23cms.

As to dating them, they have proved tricky little blighters to pin down!  Why publications weren’t dated, we’ll never now, but I jolly well wish they had been because it would make it a lot less frustrating!! 

However, if you’re prepared to take your time and look closely, you can work out little bits here and there. Offering a little extra help was that fact that most of these magazines feature a foreword which, more often than not, mentions the coming season that the magazine is equipping its reader for.  It’s like a puzzle, slowly building up little snippets of information from each magazine and then putting it all down on paper to see what you have got. 

The breakthrough to accurately dating at least some of them came in issue 182 which firmly dated its publication to the end of 1945.  I know this, with certainty, because of this cheerful message in the back of the magazine.

These magazines are wonderful and, dare I say it, they are on a par with my beloved Stitchcraft magazines, if not a whisker in front!  They feature jumpers, toys, accessories, little bits for around the home, embroidery and some rather splendid patriotic bits and pieces.  Make Do and Mend and the long forgotten “rag bag” feature in many issues.

As to my collection, well, I got my first issue on eBay for just 99p plus P&P.  It was cheap because it was without its front cover – not ideal, certainly, but it was what it offered inside that I was interested by.  It contains patterns for some truly lovely corsages as well as a “stars and stripes”. 

With the USA link and the large size of the magazine, I’m guessing it was produced when America became our allies after the bombing of Pearl Harbour so I’m pretty certain that its issue 167 which dates it to spring 1942.

Following the purchase of the above magazine, I was lucky and acquired a small run of consecutive issues, namely 175 through to 183.  Having a run of numbers really helped me to pin down the publication dates.

I then picked up some individual magazines numbering 168, 169, 172, 173, 181, 187, 189, 194 and 196.  They all came from eBay and the 1940’s editions do pop up infrequently.  When they do, so far at least anyway, they are quite cheap, especially when compared to the inflated prices that some of the Stitchcraft magazines go for.

My earliest two issues, and also my favourite 2, are numbers 160 and 161.  They are both early war editions, 160 from the end of 1940 (it mentions Christmas) and 161 from the first months of 1941.

The green and black jumper featured on the cover of 161 has made it onto my “to knit” list while the Dig For Victory Bunny has to be attempted at some point in 2013!  I think the covers sold them to me; I especially love the RAF wedding with the bride’s homemade hat and blouse - patterns for both feature in the magazine!

If you have any of these delightful magazines and have been unsure of date, I’ve included a list below which I am 99% sure is correct although, of course, if you know differently, please feel free to correct me :o)

Here goes, I hope it’s not too complicated!

1940 – Bimonthly issues numbering 155, 156, 157, 158, 159 and 160 all issued on the 30th of every alternate month so January, March, May, July, September and November.

1941 – Bimonthly issues numbering 161, 162, 163, 164, 165, and 166, again, all issued on the 30th of every alternate month

From 1942 onwards, issues went quarterly and seem to have run is seasons i.e. spring, summer, autumn and winter.

1942 - Issues 167, 168, 169 and 170                                   1943 - Issues 171, 172, 173 and 174

1944 – Issues 175, 176, 177 and 178                                  1945 - Issues 179, 180, 181 and 182

1946 – Issues 183, 184, 185 and 186                                  1947 - Issues 187, 188, 189 and 190

1948 – Issues 191, 192, 193 and 194                                  1949 - Issues 195, 196, 197 and 198

When flicking through issue 182, I found something rather special (well, I think it's special).   Slipped between the pages was a newspaper cutting and a price ticket from a piece of fabric!  It shows that the purchaser got 2 5/8 yards of material for 14/6 plus 3 precious coupons!  If only I knew what had been made!  It was obviously important to someone so it has now been put safely back between the pages and that's where it shall stay.

I adore these magazines, really I do.  I know you shouldn't get so attached to "things" but I would hate for anything to happen to them.  They are a wonderful source of patterns for any knitter or crafter, but especially the vintage obsessed among us!  If you are lucky enough to spot one for sale, take a look inside, I think you'll like what you find :o)
Gosh, rather a long post, I do apologise.  Did you stick with it?  If you did, thank you, I hope you found it interesting :o) 


  1. Oh I most certainly did! Lucy, this is fab, thanks so much for doing this and indeed sharing the fruits of your hard research. All my copies are without the front covers so other than picking up references to Christmas or certain events of the war like you have, I've had no clue really about date. I will try to identify what I have now using your list. I am very impressed by your collection, I hardly ever remember to look on ebay, when I do there aren't many, if any, issues there and of course, I have trouble knowing what I have already, not wanting to duplicate. I think I probably have about ten issues, one binder in the larger size and one the smaller. I was using them again today and a bit fearful as they're not in great condition despite the binders. Priceless, though...
    Hen x

  2. those hand crafted necklaces look strangely modern....Have you had a look at etsy recently?

  3. I too have a couple of those magazines, which I collected as and when I bought my Needlewoman and Needlcraft. Like you I purchase when I see them.
    Julie xxxxx

  4. Not another amazing collection- Gah!
    I don't have as many of these as i would like- it’s slowly building up (very slowly!)
    I am rather jealous of your 160 edition. I put one up on fleabay a while ago, but it went way out of my price range! I can't wait to find because as you know I’m a little nutty about dashing RAF fellows. I might have to dye my hair, then make the hat and jumper and just pretend to be the girl in the picture ....hmm, perhaps its best I don't find that issue then after all!
    Tups x

  5. Love them! I have several little booklets like that, called The Work Basket (mostly from the 50's). Such a great resource! I'm envious of yours!

  6. I did stick with it :) How lovely these are! I especially love the stars and stripes jumper- being a Brit in the USA, I would wear this ;)
    I shall have to watch for these magazines!

  7. I read about these on Hen's blog, they're wonderful! I might keep my eyes peeled. Thanks for sharing :) x

  8. I love things like this! Amazing collection! Adore the Boys of the USA. I would love to make those. And a nice little surprise on the inside. I love little bits like that!

  9. Hi again, further to my previous email I have needlwork illustrated mags for sale do let me know how to contact you if you are interested in purchasing. I am ebaying some but happy to sell direct. I am in australia. Again I enjoy reading your posts about these mags. Pen

  10. Love this article, just picked up no 214 with a really cute intact toy pattern in a charity shop for 30p.

    They are so beautiful and the adverts give you an insight into times gone by. I assume that my book is from the 1950's, again no date shown.