In the 20th century, the colour-rich textiles of Scotland-based designer Bernat Klein reached the high couture runways.

Used by the likes of Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, his vibrant textiles created in the Scottish Borders travelled across the world but would not have been possible without a “vital” hidden figure.

Margaret Klein, his wife, was a pivotal figure in the business and her knitting is now at the centre of a fresh push to ensure that her impact is not forgotten.

The University of Glasgow researchers and curators at National Museums Scotland (NMS) have joined forces to revive one of Ms Klein’s knitting patterns for a ‘bubble beret’.

The pattern has now been rereleased on the NMS website in the hope that a new generation of hand-knitters will take on the design.

“I think that like many creative couples oftentimes the female part of the partnership gets somewhat overshadowed,” Lisa Mason, a National Museums Scotland curator, said.

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She added: “I think that’s definitely the case with Margaret Klein. The more research I do into this, the more I realized that she was a real creative force in her own right.

“She was also a really highly skilled businesswoman.”

While her name may be less recognised, Serbian-born Bernat Klein himself did not undervalue her skills and made her company director at his textile design business.

The Herald: Sample of a Bernat Klein textileSample of a Bernat Klein textile (Image: National Museums Scotland)

The couple met in Leeds after Mr Klein moved to the United Kingdom from his native Senta, in today's Serbia, following the Second World War. 

Trained as a civil servant, Mrs Klein had no formal background in design but as an avid self-taught hand knitter, her patterns made their unique textiles accessible to a different class.

The couture fabrics may have put Bernat Klein Ltd on the map but in the 1960s their in-house produced yarns and patterns became “another avenue of the brand”.

Based in Selkirk, Mr Klein established a cottage industry or hand-knitters, employing up to 250 people.

The brand, which is recognisable for its “joyous use” of colour, used space-dyed brushed mohair to create rich textiles.

In 1962, the trade journal Wool described the fabrics as "the first real breakthrough in colour and design technique for over half a century".

“Margaret was able to really, very creatively make up these knitwear patterns that exploited the colours and textures of those really innovative colourful yarns,” Ms Mason said.

“She used more open-knit stitches to showcase space-dyed fuzzy mohair. A lot of Margaret’s patterns are quite organic like the bubble beret that we are launching you can see they’re almost like little plant forms on stems. It does look incredibly organic.”

Both of them "took a lot of inspiration" from the Scottish landscape and the natural world generally, the curator added. 

Their Selkirk home, known as High Sunderland, ensured panoramic views of the landscape through its modernist design. 

The Herald:

The curator explained that many of the colours used for the textiles were "very clearly referencing the Scottish landscape". 

The Herald: Curator Lisa MasonCurator Lisa Mason (Image: National Museums Scotland)

The re-release of the pattern would not have been possible without the consent of the Klein family.

One of their children, Shelley Klein, 60, said that her mother was an “absolutely vital part of the business” and recalled many conversations about the business over mealtimes.

She said: “She was a very clever designer in her own right and deserves more recognition.

“She’d be so pleased with this sort of push for her work as well.

“It was a collaboration; she was right there, and I think my father would be the first person to say he couldn't really have done it without her.”

She added that her mother would never had claimed to be a designer but had hoped that her patterns would stand the test of time.

“She was a very stylish woman, naturally, but she would never claim to be a designer.

"I remember when she was in her 80s and her saying that she wouldn’t like to think that all her patterns were just sort of thrown in the dustbin somewhere,” Ms Klein said.

She spent a long time working on them and put a lot of effort into them.

“I think it was important that the museum took all her patterns alongside my father’s work because knitwear was a big part of the business.”

And as handknitting takes on new popularity, Ms Klein said it would be "lovely" if the newly-released pattern were to introduce a new generation to her mother's designs.

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However, the relaunch of one of the patterns would not have been possible were it not for well-timed research ‘Fleece to Fashion: Economies and Cultures of Knitting in Modern Scotland’ at the University of Glasgow.

In the 1970s, the patterns created by Mrs Klein were sent out to outworkers alongside the yarn to be produced within their homes before being returned to the company.

Archive materials submitted to National Museums Scotland includes correspondences showcasing how she was managing the outworkers.

Dr Rosyln Chapman, a research associate, said: “When the Fleece to Fashion project team became aware that it was Bernat Klein’s wife Margaret who designed the knitwear, we wanted to recognise her central role in the Bernat Klein Ltd business.”

The unpublished knitting patterns helped the team recognise the creativity of Mrs Klein but also delve into the experiences of knitting homeworkers.

“Sharing one of Margaret’s unpublished knitting patterns with the hand knitting community very much recognises Margaret’s creativity, her role in Bernat Klein Ltd, and her contribution to the Scottish knitwear industry,” Dr Chapman said.

“However, and perhaps more importantly, it will act as a conduit for public interest in Margaret Klein, her creativity and designs, something she very much deserves.”  The Herald: Newly knitted bubble beret following Margaret Klein's pattern.Newly knitted bubble beret following Margaret Klein's pattern. (Image: National Museums Scotland)

Her input in managing these outworkers and directing the business was “quite extraordinary for a woman at that time”, her daughter said.

Curator Ms Mason said: “Her knitwear designs and the popularity of knitwear within fashion really did ensure the survival of the ready-to-wear brand.

"She’s important as a designer but also an economic force in her own right.”

The pattern comes as the National Museum of Scotland continues to mark the centenary of Bernat Klein's birth through an exhibition. 

The Edinburgh showcase, which also includes abstract paintings created by the designer, remains open until April 23.

"With the launch of this pattern, it’s a nice way to engage with the collection.

"It is hoped that the Bernat and Margaret Klein fans across the world and hand knitters will knit up this pattern."