Tag Archives | soldiers

Public vs. Private Acts of Craftivism: Which Do You Prefer?

Continuing on from my post the other day about solo craftivist acts, 2 things have come to my attention lately that are 2 very different solo acts of craftivism. Public vs. private. I’m not making any judgements to which is “better” or “worse,” these are just two very different stories that have come up on my radar lately that fit under the umbrella of craftivism.

1. Tramway to Hell

This bit of crochet was put in the other day in Edinburgh to speak out against a local tram project.

Market researcher Mary Gordon, 44, snapped some pictures of the knitted notice.

“I was making my way home when it caught my eye. It was on tram barriers near the H&M close to Waverley Station. Quite a few people were gathered in front of it, having a look and taking pictures.

“I’m certainly familiar with the concept of yarn-bombing, and I know it’s been getting more popular here, but I’ve only ever heard of people, say, covering up benches or handrails to add a bit of colour to the environment, not making a political statement. It’s a bit like graffiti, but without the paint.”

Mary, who is herself a keen knitter and crocheter but insists she wasn’t responsible, said that the blanket was of a “high-standard”.

“I would guess that it must have taken at least a week, maybe two, so a lot of work went into it.

“Princes Street looks grim beyond belief right now and it was nice to see something colourful that was also making people think.”

2. Tina Selby’s 10,000 Hats for Soldiers in Afghanistan

Tiny Selby just finished her 10,000th hat for soldiers in Afghanistan. A very different act of craftivism.

A woman who turned her love of knitting to helping British soldiers fight off the cold in Afghanistan has topped a remarkable milestone.

Tina Selby, 50, from Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan, has now knitted more than 10,000 woolly hats.

In 2009, Mrs Selby planned to knit just 500 for regiments in Helmand province.

But, following the response she received from the troops, Mrs Selby will carry on knitting until the soldiers leave Afghanistan.

“It’s a full-time job,” said Mrs Selby, who is retired.

Tina Selby says she had about 100 knitters helping her send woolly hats to soldiers in Afghanistan,”but I’ll keep going until they come home in 2014.”

But, both speak to the heart of craftivism: using your creativity for positive change. (Okay, “tramway to hell” may not be the most positive, but it’s opening dialogue, which is it’s own type of change.) What I find fascinating is the dialogue that springs up around each of them. Public and private. One is just as good as the other, but does one make the maker feel better? The viewer? Yourself?

Do they elicit different internal dialogues? Does one seem more “legit” than the other? Does one deserve more recognition than the other?

This is what I’m working with at present, wondering, why do we do the craftivist acts that we do? What is our individual goal in doing them? Which do people prefer? No answers yet, just thoughts. Would love to hear yours!


Craft and War, Old School

Whenever I’m in need of inspiration for something, I can always count on the past. And if you do as well, and you’ve never had a look at the Library of Congress online collection, you might want to. All these photos deal with craft and war. I love how of our cultural current definition of masculinity is challenged a bit in the first photo, a soldier knitting* quietly, with pin up photos in the background. The second and third are two different groups of women, both knitting for “their” soldiers.

Plus, how cool are the uniforms in the second photo?

Interned German, Fort Douglas, knitting scarf

[Note: how much his creation differs from that of German POW Jim Simpson. Not making a political statement, just interesting. Also: I’m not technically sure what the heck the guy above is doing, as it looks more like he’s making friendship bracelets than knitting?]

Women’s National Service School Under Woman’s Section, Navy League, 1916.

Berlin, Knitting for Soldiers

1st and 3rd photographs: Bain Collection, 2nd: Harris & Ewing Collection



Soldiers, Crafts and Comfort

I know that many of you, as have I, have donated various items of handcraft to soldiers currently in country in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ever since World War I, there have been initiatives like Knit Your Bit from the Red Cross. Actually, knitting for soldiers started even earlier than that, but that’s another story for another day.

But here’s a story about quilting and war. It’s about how a mother and daughter started an Iraq quilting bee for soldiers who have since learned various handcrafts. In the video below, there’s also a photo a light blue elephant crocheted by a very manly looking doctor in uniform, and the story of how this was started.





What I like best about this story was that it not only showed how a tiny idea (a soldier in Iraq requesting fabric from her mother) can grow into something bigger, but it also showed how sometimes (religion aside) there’s both a need and an interest in picking up something like crochet or quilting where you least expect it.

Instead of making something for the soldiers to use as comfort, this particular project uses craft itself as the comfort. And this perfectly dovetails with some thoughts I’ve been struck with lately… how sometimes the act/lesson of craft itself can be a more apt gift than the final product and how new valuable (for others not just ourselves!) projects can find us if we’re willing to just listen and be present.

I don’t know about you, but usually when I start something so small I feel like it’s useless, I’m focusing on the wrong end of the stick (the needle? the hook?). I’m focusing on what I think it will give vs. focusing on the joy and excitement and energy the project itself brings.

I forget how letting go of the outcome allows projects the room to fully expand and go where they need to. So today, here, is a little reminder to follow the joy your work brings… and to honor the work itself by giving it the space and the trust to change, move and grow.

Soldiers Knitting, part 2!

More knitting soldiers! You may be asking yourself, “Why is this important?” Well, war and craft are two things throughout history found in almost every culture, and each of them got more or less “assigned” to a particular gender along the way. Women, the childbearers, needed to stay close to home to watch their babies, so war was pretty much out. Men, well, let’s just say there are loads of reasons why they ended up with war instead of craft. As they are prevalent throughout history, I’m interested in the links between the two, as if you look at America’s wars of last century, the rise in popularity in craft, follows the same timeline. Crazy, no?

The accompanying text is the only mention I’ve ever seen of soldiers knitting for evacuated children.

Two soldiers knitting in wartime, 31 October 1939. ‘If you drop in at ‘The Peggy Bedford’ on the Great West Road in Longford, Middlesex, the landlady will ask you to knit. She will hand you knitting needles with your drink, and the idea is that you knit a few squares between the orders. These squares are later made up into clothes for soldiers and evacuated children. Two customers in uniform busily knit after obtaining their drinks’.

Slowly, I’m discovering more evidence of soldiers being taught knitting in previous wars because of its therapeutic nature. The text below accompanies the photo below on the website for Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine:

Great strides were also made in occupational therapy. The men were taught new job skills that could be used once they were dismissed from the hospital. Subjects taught in the Fort’s vocational school included telegraphy, metal work, basketry, commercial art, shorthand and typing. Carpentry, upholstery, auto repair, bookkeeping and even knitting were also offered to keep the wounded occupied and provide them with a possible means of livelihood. It was the first serious attempt to give disabled American veterans real employment.

Probably the spirit of the hospital’s rehabilitation program was best depicted in an illustration on the anniversary cover of “The Trouble Buster,” Fort McHenry’s own magazine, printed on its own presses by it own patients.

There is more about “The Trouble Buster” in Carry On: A Magazine on the Reconstruction of Disabled Soldiers, Part 1 published in 1919 by the Office of the Surgeon General. Not only does Carry On have awesome article titles such as “The Seas of Opportunity are Waiting for Specialized Brains” and “The Sluggard and the Ant,” it also provides a pretty interesting look at what returning soldiers were facing after World War I.

And lastly, the first thing I found online that mentioned teaching soldiers to knit because it’s a “mental stimulus.” From the Democrat & Chronicle, Rochester NY, February 7, 1918, page 12:

Rochester Women Have Proficient Pupils in Camp Dix Hospital
Rochester women are teaching soldiers in the base hospital at Camp Dix to knit. Wooford G. TIMMONS, of New York, and Elmer ADLER, of Rochester, were instrumental in procuring the instruments and a big supply of wool and the Y. M. C. A. has installed a number of small table looms. Among those who are teaching the soldier patients to knit are Mrs. Joseph ALLING, wife of Joseph T. ALLING, of this city, who is doing Y. M. C. A. work at the camp, and Mrs. W. J. WOOD; Mrs. ALLING is the chief instructress.
The physicians have declared that knitting is beneficial to the men as a mental stimulus.

I also really dig that Mrs. Alling is called “the chief instructress.”

Soldiers Knitting (1918)

Researching the therapeutic value of knitting, I came across this from 1918. More later, but too cool not to share now.

As for anyone who thinks that knitting is just for wusses, please note that this picture was taken at Walter Reed. Yes, Walter Reed Army Medical Center.*

ca. 1918-1919, Walter Reed Hospital, Washington, DC, USA — Bed-ridden wounded knit to help pass the time. Walter Reed Hospital, Washington, DC, ca. 1918-1919. — Image by © CORBIS

*Restraining with all my power to not type “Take that, hardasses” here. Yes, I know a lot of really nice military guys, but knitting, let’s just say is not on their radar.

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