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This past Tuesday I learned how to not be scared of my sewing machine thanks to an Intro to Sewing course at Bits of Thread here in DC.

It was so momentous that I literally had the following clip from What About Bob in my head:





I have slugged my grandmother’s old Singer sewing machine to my various apartments for over a decade now, yet been so scared of using it that I had only actually tried it out once or twice. I had literally become a Luddite, as I kept saying things like “it’s too fast” or “I can’t handle all those moving parts” whenever talk of me actually using it came up in conversation, as not only do I have it, but it sits permanently in my living room (it’s built-in to a table).

So, I decided to face my crafty fear and go for it. Here are the results:


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Ahoy! Now how I know how Bob felt in that clip and feel so triumphant for having mastered my fear of the moving needle!

Curious, do you have any crafty fears? And if so, have you mastered them?

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First of all, you may be wondering, what is a woman riding a camel in the Khyber Pass doing on a post about craftivism? Well, it’s totally related once you realize that that woman on that camel is Louisa Pesel, who helped shell-shocked soldiers and passed out cross-stitch/embroidery kits (some resources say one, some the other) to POWs with the Red Cross.

I’ve searched high and low on the internet for more information than provided below, but it’s sparse. If anyone has any more information, I’d love to hear it! While this week’s entry may be a bit sparse, I hope it helps someone learn about the fabulous work on this amazing woman.




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Louisa Pesel is a special hero of mine. Many years ago I fell in love with her notebooks and her meticulously hand drawn charted designs of antique needlework. She was saying, ‘Just look at this, isn’t this design wonderful?’ Having travelled to many countries in the near East, she wanted all the world to see what she, by her good fortune, had seen. I think it is so important to keep alight the torch she lit. The more so, perhaps, since she was an old girl of my school in Bradford. How strange to think that the school founded in 1875 and something of a scandal since it proposed to teach girls mathematics and classics instead of the usual domestic arts, should have been, in its turn, slightly astonished to turn out a scholar with a passion for design and needlework.




Born in Bradford, Louisa Frances Pesel (1870-1947) was a teacher of embroidery. She studied design under the Arts & Crafts practitioner Lewis Foreman Day, who recommended her for the post of Designer at the Royal Hellenic School of Needlework and Laces in Athens, where she soon became its Director. After returning to England, Pesel worked with shell-shocked soldiers in Bradford, and was involved in establishing embroidery kits for POWs (Prisoners of War) during the Second World War.




More than 90 years ago, in the final year of the First World War, steam trains daily brought injured soldiers into Bradford for hospital treatment.

Among these hospitals was the 437-bed Abram Peel Hospital in Leeds Road, a military establishment for neurological disorders, staffed by the Royal Army Medical Corps, Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service and volunteers.

A club was formed to help them, the Bradford Khaki Club, based in Forster Square.

Khaki Club members were also taught embroidery by Louisa Pesel, the Bradford-born daughter of a German merchant. She was in her 40s, a noted scholar and embroidery expert who had been director of the Royal Helenic School of Needlework and Laces in Athens.

She helped some of them to embroider what is known as the Khaki Cloth, a cross-stitch frontlet made at the club in the autumn of 1918 for use at services in the Abram Peel Hospital.




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The Bradford Khaki Club was formed in the First World War to help the many shell shocked and injured soldiers brought home for hospital treatment. It had a restaurant, games room, library and held concert parties, members were also taught to embroider by Louisa Pesel (first President of the “Embroiderers Guild of Needlework”), some of whom helped embroider what is known as the “Khaki Cloth”, a cross-stitch frontlet made in 1918 and used at services in the “Abram Peel Hospital” in Leeds Road a Military establishment staffed by the Royal Army Medical Corps and the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service.




From 1941 to 1947: Pesel was involved in sending craft kits out to POWS in Red Cross parcels. She also taught sewing to evacuated school girls in Winchester.




Along with all of this amazing work, she was also world traveled and master embroiderer.

The Pesel Collection of Collected and Created works, bequeathed to the University of Leeds in 1947, consists of a total of over 400 embroidered items, ranging in size, stitching and provenance. The majority are of Turkish and Greek island origin, others emanate from Morocco, Algeria, Turkestan, India, Pakistan, Persia, Syria, China, and Western Europe. The collection also includes Louisa Pesel’s own pieces and samples, including her ‘models’ for Winchester Cathedral, and also an archival collection of her notebooks, photographs, articles and drawings*. Many of her publications are available to view in Leeds University Library.




One of the founders of the Khaki Club was Louisa Pesel, a relatively well to do 46 year old woman, whose war efforts also included assisting Belgian refugees and raising money to provide ambulances for use at the Front. She was also an expert embroiderer, and used this as therapy for the soldiers.

Cozy and comfy

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I took this photo of Bobbin the other week and to me it pretty much embodies what, to me, is essential for “home,” a furry one and some handmade items. Every time I see her curled up with this pillow it reminds me how much I love my grandmother, who made it. As she gets older she likes to give away her things, and once when I was visiting her at her retirement home, she tucked this under my arm without warning and said, “I want you to have this.”

Store-bought pillows just don’t hold the same resonance, depth, and warmth. As lovers of things handmade, I think we are lucky to appreciate the work that goes into them, as they hold traces not just of the hands that made them, but of the people themselves.

Knitting and the Vietnam War?! Really?! Yes! During the Vietnam War, 2 Canadian organizations Canadian Aid for Vietnamese Children (CAVC) and Voice of Women (VOW) used knitting as a way to help the Vietnamese people. Here are some of the links that I found so you can learn more about what happened.




I was puzzled, however, as knitting did experience extreme peaks in popularity during wars prior to 1950, however, with the Vietnam war, knitting for wartime efforts played a far smaller role in female participation in war efforts, leading up to the present day, in which knitted goods are virtually absent from discourse on military support efforts. How did knitting go from being such an integral part of the war effort to being a nonexistent one?




Voice of Women (VOW) was founded in 1960 whem women across Canada decided they must try to stop what appeared to be imminent nuclear war. The Summit Conference had collapsed; the Cold War was rapidly getting hotter, and we felt women around the world should band together to demand an end to war. Groups like VOW were formed in many countries.

By the end of its first year, VOW had 6000 members. It organized an International Women’s Conference in September 1962-the first meeting in Canada to include women from the Soviet Union and other socialist countries. Conference delegates called on the U.N. to designate a World Peace Year. The idea was taken up by Prime Minister Nehru at the UN., and 1965 was proclaimed International Cooperation Year.




…Young initiated a knitting project to provide clothing for Vietnamese children as a means of communicating the harsh realities of war; she hoped thereby to influence citizens across North America to press for a speedy end to the war. By November 1966, just a few months after the establishment of CAVC’s children’s committee, the knitting project had gained momentum. In a letter to Kay MacPherson, Young asserted, “We have found that actual involvement in ‘making things’ has done more to arouse compassion and publicize the great need for acts of humanitarianism and the desperate need to halt the war, than any other project.




Women in North America have long been active in trying to put an end to conflicts around the world. In the early 1960s, when the threat of nuclear war loomed over many nations, our own Canadian Voice of Women for Peace (VOW) was formed. Since then, the organization has been promoting peace and disarmament, particularly in the context of nuclear war.

VOW has organized unique activities to draw attention to its cause. In 1963, it collected and tested thousands of baby teeth from children across North America to demonstrate the fallout from the atmospheric testing of Strontium 90, a harmful radioactive isotope. During the Vietnam War, the Ontario VOW organized the Knitting Project for Vietnamese Children. Over a ten-year period, the group sent thousands of hand-knitted garments and other aid to the child victims of the war and their families.

Over time, VOW has expanded its focus to include human rights and civil liberties, preservation of the environment, as well as economic and political issues.




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Presumably some of the young Canadian knitters and other youth volunteers found kinship with the unknown Vietnamese children they were assisting or when they imagined themselves in the same situation. Zoya Stevenson, a Toronto teen, participated in the CAVC knitting campaign because she could relate to the Vietnamese children affected by the war. “The napalm bombing of innocent women and children (like myself) shocked me,” she recalled, elaborating that “the fact that these acts of terror were sanctions by citizens of my own country, frightened me terribly.”


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The efforts of women fighting for peace did not end with the World Wars, nor did the use of knitting as a form of peace activism stop. The Canadian group ‘Voice of Women’ (VOW), created in July 1960 as a reaction against the Cold War, garnered ten thousand members by 1961 – just twelve months after having been first established.[25] Barbara Roberts’ essay, Women’s Peace Activism in Canada, featured in Kealey and Sangster’s Beyond the Vote: Canadian Women and Politics (1989), explains the way in which VOW became a prominent feminist and peace activist group during the years of the Cold War, despite being founded at a time when “feminists were cranks” and “socialists were commies”.[26] The group took on the initiative of knitting thousands of camouflage baby clothes to be shipped to Vietnam so as to protect children and their families from the US air strikes.[27] This bold action made a loud statement to the Canadian people, and despite not being well received by much of the public, VOW continued to protest the Cold War.

More reading:
*Purls for Peace:The Voice of Women, Maternal Feminism, and the Knitting Project for Vietnamese Children
* Re-Imagining War: The Voice of Women, The Canadian Aid for Vietnam Civilians, and the Knitting Project for Vietnamese Children, 1966-1976

“Week” #7! Knitting and WWII! I know that many of you think you already know a lot about this subject, so I’ve tried to dig up some gems that you may not already know about… But first, this amazing gem from the 1943 film Mr. Lucky, where we see Cary Grant… knitting… for the war!






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The knitting was done as much for morale as for practical purposes. It gave people a way to feel that they were contributing to the war effort — similar to Victory Gardens and scrap metal drives. Of course, none of these three activities was exclusively symbolic: all three of them served to support the war effort and free up resources needed elsewhere.




vintage war knitting on Pinterest




How knitting was used as code in WW2: During the Second World War the Office of Censorship banned people from posting knitting patterns abroad in case they contained coded messages. There was one occasion when knitting was used for code. The Belgian resistance recruited old women whose windows overlooked railway yards to note the trains in their knitting. Basic stuff: purl one for this type of train, drop one for another type.



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This newspaper article is about a Mexican woman in the United States who used her sewing skills to support her sons fighting in the U.S. Army.

The quilt Mrs. Maria Salazar made was originally going to be sold to finance her trip to Mexico to visit relatives, but she reconsidered and donated the money to support the efforts of the Red Cross and ultimately of her three sons fighting in the war. Her name, address and the names and ages of her sons are listed in the old newspaper article.




The amazing story of Jim Simpson, who was a WWII POW who knitted this sweet rug. More here.


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During the War the Women’s Institutes and other patriotic ladies held knitting circles, influenced by the slogans on the hoardings, etc, with the reminder that “If you can knit — you can do your bit”. So they knitted for the Army, Navy, Air Force and ARP workers. Knitting patterns were printed called “War Knitting” and Sirdar Wool Company produced wool specially dyed in service colours, i.e. khaki, navy blue, Air Force blue and grey. They knitted pullovers with long sleeves, sleeveless pullovers, gloves, balaclavas and other garments which were lovely, cosy and warm.



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Women have always knit, but in wartime, knitting was one of the ways that women could show their patriotism. During World War II, the United States harnessed this energy with the campaign, “Knitting for Victory”.

Eleanor Roosevelt launched the effort at a Knit for Defense tea held at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York in September 1941. There are many photos of Eleanor Roosevelt knitting – she merits an exhibit of her own. In the meantime, here’s this comfy photo of her knitting while she still resided in the governor’s mansion in New York in 1932, just before FDR became President.




A lovely Counter Craft post about knitting and WWII with further links

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World War II: Knitting became more of a civilian job as organizations like the American Red Cross pushed it as a way for those on the homefront to contribute to the war effort. Many civilians formed groups like the Little Norway Knitting Club in Butte, Montana (pictured below) to create socks and sweaters for soldiers. However, there are also records of soldiers held prisoner in Germany unraveling their own sweaters and reknitting them into socks with improvised barbed wire “needles” – knitting was not demilitarized yet.




Many of the earliest knitters for World War II had knit for Victory as children or young adults during World War I. Knitting was for them a natural and immediate response to war. “The men hardly have time to grab their guns before their wives and sweethearts grab their needles and yarn,” claimed Time on July 21, 1940. Knitting provided warmth and comfort for the soldier and therapeutic distraction for the knitter.




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WWII knitting and sewing songs




A huge number of women on both sides took up knitting at the outbreak of the great war to provide socks and comfort for men in the trenches. While machine-made socks had long surpassed home-made socks, hand-made garments were important as they were a practical way to reassure men in trenches that people at home where thinking of them. It was also an important way for men and women at home to contribute their talents to the war effort. A poem sent to Stars and Stripes during WWII addressed ‘To Peggy’ shows that their efforts were appreciated: ‘Squatting in gleaming camp fire rings, in sunshine and in wet, i’ll wear these oozy knitted things, and never will forget, that all that floss was gently rolled From Skien to rolling sphere, by dainty hands I loved to hold, far far away from here.’




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More related links:
*Stitching a Protest
*Knitting Paradise forum thread on knitting and WWII
Make, Mend or Spend?
*Smithsonian Education PDF on civic responsibility during WWII
*An interview with Rohn Strong on his knitting patterns for WWI and WWII

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