KNITS OF THE TIMES

Several small developments on this end. First, I’m up to the final corner on my gray/brown shawl. One more night’s knitting should put it to bed. Then it gets added to the ever growing to-be-blocked pile. Second, I’ve decided I should take personal steps to decrease the “overweight, middle-aged women who knit” demographic. Since I can’t do much about the passage of time nor do I have any intention of abandoning my hobbies, I have embarked on an exercise program. I won’t speak about it again until it produces some sort of result. Third, the bathroom renovation is now in its final step – painting. I’ve spackled, sanded, and washed down the walls. I’ve cut in the corners with primer, and am about to roll the walls and ceilings with that base coat. After that comes white ceiling paint, plus a white tinged with green for the upper parts of the walls above the railroad tile. Pix when I’m done.

For the meat of this entry, last week the New York Times announced that it was throwing part of its archive open for free access. People who have registered with the site (a painless, no cost, and non-spam-generating process) can view most articles prior to 1928 or so, plus a subset of articles after that point without paying. Needless to say, I took advantage of the opportunity to see what early knitting-related material might be there.

The New York Times was never noted for frivolity and never ran a crafts or continuing women’s interest column that published needlework interest items, therefore it’s not surprising that I found mostly business- and war-related knitting articles. I found quite a bit of interest to textile historians – accounts of mills opening, burning, and closing down (all very common); reports on inventors or new processes; documentation of poor working conditions and worker exploitation. I did find some fashion commentary for both home and personal wear; but more on war knitting, describing materials distribution, yarn and needle shortages, yarn rationing (and the resulting protests), and famous people knitting for the cause. Amid all of this were some scattered patterns and knitting trivia.

Here are some of the most notable. Remember though that these are all written in the vernacular of their times. Few are ready-to-knit in the modern sense, but experienced knitters with a bit of perseverance should be able to make sense of most of them – especially the how to knit socks for soldiers piece from 1914. All are in PDF – remember you need to sign up with the NYT website to view these:

A human interest piece from 1908– warning of the dangers of knitting on trains and buses. Amusingly enough, I’ve seen this very same story repeated as a gentle caution against knitting on planes. Perhaps this is the ur-source of an Urban Legend.

Patterns from 1883 – includes knit over gloves intended to be worn over kid leather gloves for extra warmth that uses #16 needles (in between a modern US #00-#000 or 1.75 and 1.5mm); a simple lacy shawl knit on #14 (modern US #0, metric 2mm); and baby booties (also on #16s); and a sock using fine wool that looks like it starts mid-pattern – this last one may in fact be directions only for the heel. I’d need to experiment to confirm.

Fancy ornamented knitting accessories are nothing new. Silver plated and brass straights with fancy charms or jeweled button ends were offered for sale in 1917.

For Civil War period re-enactors and historical needlework buffs – a pattern for Soldiers’ Mittens with a separate forefinger from 1861 (aka shooters’ mittens). From the number of stitches cast on I suspect these can be worked from sport weight yarn today.

Again everything old is new again – carpal tunnel syndrome as a result of writing, sewing and knitting –described in 1882.

How to Knit Socks for Soldiers, 1914. Mrs. De Lancey Nicoll presents comprehensive prose instructions on sock knitting in excellent detail because “The trouble with American Women is that so few of them how know to knit socks. Practically only the foreign-born women know how.” Surprising because today we think that everyone in the past knew these skills. Excellent beginners instruction in sock knitting (and in period terminology), these socks are standard 5-needle top-down socks with a drawstring toe, calf shaping, and a gusseted heel, worked on size #14 needles (US #0 or 2mm). They start at 80 stitches above the calf, but narrow down to 60 at the ankle, making them dead on for modern fingering weight yarn and a fit close to contemporary socks. Plan on at least 200g of sock yarn to make a pair of these. Probably a bit more.

War work, this time from 1917. The illustrious Mrs. Leeds offers up patterns for knitted sleeping socks (#12 needles, around modern #2 or 3mm, but the 84 stitches around make me want to work this pair on #000s or 1.5mm). Also two crocheted scarves – note that worsted is not a yarn weight descriptor for these, instead it specifies a twisted multi-plied long fiber staple yarn of high quality. I’d use a light fingering weight or 3-ply baby yarn. Directions also for an abdominal band, and two knitted helmets.

Official Red Cross patterns for war knitting, also from 1917. Again Mrs. Leeds – the knitting and crochet instructor for the Atlantic City Red Cross – is mentioned. This collection includes wristlets, a trench cap, knee caps, a sleeveless jacket (pullover vest); a helmet, muffler, and jacket. There’s also a bath mitt, eye bandage, and crocheted hospital stockings.

1917 war knitting again – a plea for knitting to comfort sailors. This includes cursory directions for sleeveless jackets (vests), wristlets and mufflers. These three garments were considered a set. The article points out that each battleship requires 500 sets of these garments and each submarine, 20. This article, also from 1917 also mentions the Navy sets, and offers Red Cross directions for an abdominal band.

From 1915, the most curious piece of war knitting I’ve ever seen. Invented by a French doctor, the “Multipurpose Garment” that appears to be a loosely knitted body-wide strip with a head hole. The idea is that it can be used or worn in several ways: flat as a comforter; or with the sides laced up in various manners, making the thing into the equivalent of a sleeveless vest, an upper body cropped sweater, or swathed around as an odd looking combo abdominal band/balaclava. This may be worth knitting up just to see what it looks like.

Embedded in this 1910 women’s column is a cursory description of a crocheted afghan – long strips of plain crochet, joined with openwork.

From 1911 – cursory directions for a striped knit afghan, in a women’s interest column that also warns about the dangers of diet pills.

And finally a cast-on hint from 1907 – use bigger needles when you cast-on.

I hope someone finds these bits entertaining and useful. If you attempt to knit from any of them, I’d love to hear about the result.


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One response

  1. Wow you found some treasures! Thanks for posting them!

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