The following points were raised in a comment on my post Vintage Textiles. I found the questions really interesting so thought I would post the comment and the response here as a seperate blog:
"Do you find that the vintage patterns are lacking when compared to modern? (I thrifted some 1960's & 1970's knitting patterns last week.)
By lacking, I mean that techniques like knitting in the round don't seem to be used. And a particular yarn might be listed, but the pattern won't identify 'worsted weight' for example".
Historically printed patterns were predominantly published by yarn manufacturers and as such they wanted you to purchase their yarn. Therefore alternatives weren't offered as they expected the consumer to buy the recommended yarn. We are in a very fortunate situation these days that designers are able to publish their designs directly and not rely on a yarn manufacturer to do so. It also accounts for why most patterns from the past do not have the designer's name on them.
Also on this point, yarn companies were not global. For example, Sirdar sold in the UK but not elsewhere, and there were only a limited number of yarn companies in the market place, so they knew that on the whole people could obtain them.
Considering the point of not using techniques such as knitting in the round:
This is indeed the case in the 60's and 70's - certainly in the UK at least. There tended to be a format for knitting patterns which involved front, back and two sleeves. These types of patterns are easier to write and grade (size) - bear in mind there were no CAD programmes to help tech editing. There was a trend towards 'simplifying' knitting and keeping techniques to a minimum. Finishing off is something else, that until the last few years, was barely ever touched on in a pattern.
Going back further again to the 30's and 40's - my favourite era - patterns were often very complicated and assumed a certain level of skill from the knitter, which again meant that some things were left unsaid. Patterns were predominantly published in weekly magazines, used yarns easily available, which all tended to be of standard weights - mainly 2, 3 & 4 ply yarns, and occasionally DK. The pattern usually recommended one of a small number of yarn companies, but knowing that a lot of people actually undid something else to knit the new design instead. There were severe yarn shortages in this period due to the war so garments tended to be made from fine yarns as they go further, short sleeves rather than long, shorter bodies to take less yarn. Patterns, as I have said, were released EVERY week, and yet were still complex so often using a basic formula of front back and sleeves made life much easier for the poor, unmentioned 'pattern writer' - not designer.
I hope this goes some way to explaining how lucky we are now to have the diversity of designers and patterns that we do and also how lucky we are to have the internet as it has made this diversity available to us all.