I’m working (albeit in the background) on a project to get "Kitchener
Stitch" and "to Kitchener" into the Oxford English Dictionary.
I’ve already corresponded with an OED committee member and he is
fascinated by the historical connection. Should we find
sufficient documentation he would be glad to nominate the term for
I’ve gone on? about this before – mostly noting that until
knitters on both sides of the Atlantic began talking to another via the
‘Net, no one really noticed that that this term for grafting
(especially in sock toes) was far more common in the U.S. and Canada
than it was in the U.K.
This is in spite of the fact that Earl Horatio Herbert Kitchener was a
prominent British military figure in WWI, and a pre-1900 hero of the
Sudan Wars. He’s also the guy after whom the Sirdar yarn company
was named (a pal of his owned it and named it after Kitchener’s title
during his tenure in the Sudan). You’ve all seen Kitchener’s
picture, he’s the guy in the major league mustache who figured so
prominently in British WWI recruitment posters.
So far research has turned up some tantalizing facts:
Just before and in the early part of WWI, Lord Kitchener was in charge
of updating the British military kit, and oversaw the development of
standards for all items of battle dress and equipment, including
socks. Whether or not he (or his staff) issued military
specifications for socks that included seamless toes is still a tidbit
we have not pinned down.
Grafting as a technique to close up sock toes appears to not have been
widespread before the 1920s, and with very, very few exceptions is not
documented before 1920. We are still looking for exact,
research-grade citations for the earliest specific mention of grafting
(with a technique description) to close up sock toes. We’ve got
some anecdotal references, but nothing we can take to the committee.
The term "Kitchener Stitch" or "Kitchener Grafting" is still not pegged
down, although other sources lead me to believe that it was first used
in a socks-for-the-troops pamphlet issued by the Canadian Red Cross
circa 1916 – possibly from Kitchener, Ontario. This theorized
pamphlet has not yet been found. One pebble in the gears of this
theory is that Kitchener, Ontario was only named in 1916. (It
changed its name from "Berlin" at that time as part of the general
anti-German sentiment common during the War.). ?? Again, any
leads on this (with research grade citations) are most welcome.
We’ve got one from around 1923 or so as our earliest.
Jean Miles in Edinburgh is investigating another theory – that Lord
Kitchener (or someone acting in his name) either endorsed or submitted
a sock pattern? to those knitting for British Expeditionary Forces
at the outset of WWI. Again she’s got no true citations, and is
looking for leads.
As far as the technique of grafting in general – it appears to be rare
before 1920, if in fact it was done at all. Socks of that era
usually had round toes of some kind, and were terminated with a simple
draw the yarn end through the last several stitches type closure.
Some used variants of the three-needle bind off, but grafting (under
any name) is absent in museum samples before 1920 or so. Deborah
Pulliam wrote to me to say that in the course of her research she has
examined hundreds of pre-1900 and post-1900 socks and stockings, plus
hundreds of early knitting manuals and instruction sheets, and she has
not yet found a grafted toe prior to 1920. She also states that
flat toes were extremely rare prior to 1910, and are totally
unrepresented in socks and stockings prior to 1850.
There is another style of sock, I believe it is a full sole re-footable
one that was called a Kitchener Sock sometime around the late teens,
early 1920s, but it does not resemble the socks common today, nor has
the use of any grafting to make that sock been noted. Once more,
a good citation is lacking.
By research grade citations, I mean full annotation – name of author,
name of publication, date and place of publication, page number of the
citation, and a quotation of the paragraph in which the term appears.
So if you’ve got access to a local research library or Red Cross
archive and have nothing better to do, please poke around and let me
know the result. You might be the person responsible for
correcting this grievous oversight and getting Kitchener into the OED.