So I started this project for two reasons: 1) to tackle my own personal issues with discipline (and I’m struggling to work through that… my current battle? Not paying attention to the calendar and letting time slip through) and 2) to learn more about historical craftivism. But the truth is for this one, WWI knitting, even though I’m keeping it to 2 hours of research, just kept being too daunting, given all the work being done all over the world for others. However, I am determined to get 48 acts up in 48 weeks, so there may be some fudging of the technical “weeks” on the calendar while I push through my own discipline issues… Apologies to all you (k)nitpicky readers out there…
Anyhoo… here we go… WWI knitting! This was especially daunting because we all know that there was knitting for the troops in WWI. But, where do we go to look for more information? That seems to be the question on this topic. So, I’m linking to various archives and fonts of information here as the breadth is too much for 1 (or even 100) blog posts.
The “Grey Sock” pattern by Irene Victoria Read: Knitting for Victory: Transatlantic Propaganda in WWI & WWII
Volunteer work on the homefront: America During WWI and WWII
A knitted garment of one kind or another takes on and transfers a certain energy from its maker to its wearer, I believe, and there’s something incredibly moving about the sort of touch that a homemade sweater or pair of socks permitted. From the hands of a wife, mother, grandmother, sweetheart, sister, or benevolent stranger to the body of a soldier, knitwear crossed the divide between home and battlefield.
Needlework and Knitting Instructions for First World War volunteers over on Scribd uploaded by the British Red Cross
The trenches of France and Belgium were muddy and constantly filled with water. As a result, soldiers were prone to a painful condition called Trench Foot. The only cure was for them to keep their feet dry and change their socks regularly. Soldiers in the trenches were supposed to have at least three pairs of socks and change them at least twice a day. Since hand knitting was time consuming, Associated Field Comforts began to supply knitting machines to people who would try to turn out from seventy-five to one hundred pairs a month. Assistance from the people of Hamilton was regularly acknowledged by the overseas contingent. In November 1915, 27,892 pairs of socks were sent to the Front from the city. By 1916 there were Four Canadian Divisions at the Front, resulting in a greater demand on the Association for socks. Various church clubs and volunteer groups began contributing to the output of Associated Field Comforts by supplying large quantities of knitted articles for the men overseas.
Aside from raising money, school children of both genders participated in knitting clubs to produce goods to send to the troops at the front. In order to make their patriotism known to their older countrymen, New York’s children also participated in patriotic parades and memorial services both during and after the war.
The “Knit Your Bit” poster you may very well be familiar with, but check out the other posters here related to WWI propaganda:
More info on Irene Read, and her “Grey Sock kit,” complete with teeny tiny photo of said sock kit!
Soon after the war began, women and girls were knitting socks, scarves and balaclavas, for the soldiers. They knitted at home, on trams, in churches. When they ran out of knitting needles, they made new ones from bicycle spokes: when they ran out of dye, they used onion skins and wattle bark; when they ran out of wool, they learnt to spin their own.
– Jan Bassett
There are also 2 older posts here about WWI and knitting, which you will find here and here.
This photo is probably the most fascinating… it’s an interned German doing macrame at Fort Douglas…
And in keeping with last week’s post about the Civil War and knitting, here’s a little bit from the wonderful book No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting:
“At the sound of war, former Civil War knitters quickly surfaced. One eighty-eight-year-old who had accompanied her husband on Civil War assignments taught knitting to children in a Takoma Park, Maryland, church. Many still-spry United Daughters of the Confederacy who once knit for “Johnny Reb” now contributed over 600,000 knit articles for “Sammy.” Instead of gloves or stockings, a grandmother who proudly snapped on her Red Cross button “in place of her accustomed brooch” made “stump socks” to fit over amputated limbs. Seventy-two-year-old Mrs. Mitt Osgood, who lived on a Montana cattle ranch eighty miles from a railroad, knit 18 pairs of socks in twenty days and completed 120 pairs between February and September, 1918.”