A primary aim of our project was to reposition Margaret’s role in the design and production of Bernat Klein knitwear, recognising her contribution as a knitwear designer as well as an efficient and hands-on manager of a successful business.
Margaret Klein née Soper is best known as chief designer of knitted garments for the Bernat Klein company as well as the wife of designer Bernat Klein. She met her future husband in Leeds where she was working as a civil servant after spending the war years in the WAAF; he was a student of textile technology. They married in 1951 and moved to Galashiels in the Borders, the heart of the Scottish woollen textiles industry.
Like most women of her generation Margaret was taught to knit by her mother. However, she had no formal textiles training and no experience of working with textiles in a design capacity. Nevertheless, in March 1963 when Bernat Klein released a range of knitting yarns, stylishly sold in ‘hatboxes’, Margaret designed an extensive range of complementary knitting patterns. (1) With each new knitting yarn collection designed by Bernat, Margaret created knitting patterns to showcase the yarns’ qualities. However, the knitting patterns clearly demonstrate her creativity as a designer of complex and intricate patterns using unusual stitch combinations.
The first Bernat Klein mail order ready-to-wear women’s fashion collection appeared in 1973 but did not contain any of Margaret’s knitwear designs. But in 1975 when a Bernat Klein shop opened at 60 George Street, Edinburgh it included Margaret’s knitwear. (2) Shortly thereafter, the Spring/Summer 1976 catalogue featured a range of Margaret’s designs, handknitted garments in wool and mohair. From that point until 1981, her knitwear collections were a regular feature in the Bernat Klein shops and ready-to-wear catalogues and when the company ceased trading in 1981 Margaret’s knitwear production continued. From 1981 until 1992 when Margaret retired, she designed hundreds of knitting patterns, knitted by her army of homeworkers across Scotland. Primarily, these later garments were sold through selected shops nationally and internationally, but she also fulfilled individual orders. (3)
From 1963 until early 1992 the knitting patterns designed by Margaret, first for home knitters and then ready-made and knitted by hand in Scotland, ensured Bernat Klein knitwear became a fashion staple for the stylish woman at home and abroad. While publicity materials note that Bernat and Margaret worked as a team to run their family business, it is the ‘Bernat Klein’ brand that is famed. Margaret’s contribution has received little attention, and few are aware that it was she who spearheaded the knitwear arm of the business.