Grace Ennis’ famed 1950s crazy knit sock patterns to make a comeback as vintage-inspired sweaters
Posted on October 07 2015
The story of pretty Bel Air blonde Grace Ennis is one of creativity, passion and wildly unexpected success, and then the devastating house fire that ruined it all – or so it seemed for many years.
Grace was the creative mastermind behind Graphic Knitting Patterns, a hugely popular 1950s hand-knit sock pattern company that sold flamboyant designs to high-end department stores across America and as far afield as Hong Kong, Australia and the United Kingdom.
The seed of the company arguably began when Grace was just five and began to show an extraordinary knack for knitting.
But it wasn’t until 1939, when she married her sweetheart Claire Ennis at age 29 and began knitting him uniquely designed socks, that her creativity began to soar at her husband’s encouragement.
How a printing mistake launched an international success
As Grace began to turn her hobby into a thriving business, she studied printing at night and then hired a lithographer to fulfill her first order: 500 color prints of an argyle pattern, complete with her own detailed instructions, to be packaged and sold to stores across the USA.
But the printer mistakenly overran the order and she ended up with 2000 patterns to sell. Yet so popular were the designs that Grace still didn’t have enough patterns to fill the hundreds of orders that came flooding in.
Pretty soon Claire and Grace had set up a press in the garage of their home in Bel Air, California and began printing multiple runs of Grace’s patterns.
Knitters couldn’t get enough of her geometric patterns or her more ostentatious designs featuring everything from sail boats, baseball players and piano keys to panting dogs, lions and elephants.
The terrible fire that destroyed it all – almost
Grace stored every single pattern in boxes at her home, though she always kept one small case of a dozen master patterns close to her drawing table.
On November 6, 1961, a terrible fire swept through the exclusive hillside enclave of Bel Air. Grace had just enough time to evacuate, hurriedly throwing her most prized possessions into her Cadillac, including the case of master sock patterns, Socks the Boston Terrier and Jack the myna bird, who repeatedly whistled “you’re sexy” as they raced through the firestorm.
The Ennis estate was among 350 homes destroyed in the infamous Bel Air fire.
Afterwards, Claire and Grace relocated to Santa Ana, California and in 1963 Grace reintroduced 13 knit sock patterns to the market. But her thriving business never recovered and eventually she was forced to shut up shop.
The small miracle that saved Grace Ennis’ knitting patterns
Years later, Grace’s close friend Reid David was helping her move house when he came across an unmarked box.
Inside, he found her master patterns, perfectly ordered, numbered and intact. Through some miracle, a retaining wall had fallen on the boxes and protected them from the Bel Air fire.
After Grace’s death, Reid began reprinting her famed knitting patterns and for a time he sold them online – though he, too, eventually shut up shop.
Grace Ennis’ knit sock patterns to make a comeback as kitschy knit sweaters
Only a few months ago I stumbled across Grace’s incredible patterns and I just couldn’t get enough of her super kitschy socks. The hula dancers, the surfers, the beer mugs!
Her amazing patterns are way out there, and absolutely must see the light of day once more. So I’ve been buying up her 1950s sock patterns and mixing and matching them into ridiculously kitschy knit sweaters.
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Until next time,