Yesterday, (April 8) a couple of fantastic knitters any myself combined forces to participate in an Family Day event at the Northeast Georgia History Center. The History Center presented Over There: America Enters World War I, to commemorate the Centennial Anniversary of the United States entry into “The Great War” with living history interpretation and hands on activities.
So what does knitting have to do with WWI?
Quite a lot! Knitting was more than a hobby during wartime. It was an act of patriotism! Thousands if not millions of women and children in Allied countries used their knitting needles as weapons of war. What were they knitting? Socks. Lots of socks. Millions of socks, to prevent a horrid condition called trench foot. Take a moment, and google that, I’ll wait…….okay welcome back, and I’m a little sorry for the images that may be burned into your retinas. Trench warfare was often wet and muddy, and the boots soldiers wore were not fully waterproof, or leaked like sieves. Fresh dry socks were needed to keep trench foot at bay. Knitters not only made socks but sweaters, vests, gloves, balaclavas and scarves, in attempts to keep soldiers warm.
Sock knitting hasn’t changed greatly in 100 years, many of us still use double pointed needles to create them. More recent methods include knitting them on circular needles. The patterns needed for soldiers were fairly simple, and had nothing fancy included. Many of the free, top down patterns with heel flap constructions that you see on Ravelry (knitting heaven for the uninitiated) or how-to knitting sites, are very similar to the patterns used by WWI knitters. These millions of hand-knit, no frill, socks were collected by the Red Cross in the US, inspected, fixed by more experienced knitters if necessary, loaded up and sent to the military for issue.
So three brave souls did some research, packed up our socks and goodies from our favorite local yarn store, Yarn Rhapsody, started making historically accurate patterns to work on while at the event, and set up shop at the History Center.
I believe the three of us were left amazed by the interest our little tables drew in. We had set up a bit of yarn on straight needles to show children how to knit a few stitches, the three stations we set up stayed full for the entire event. One child would finish their row, and the next would sit down, occasionally an adult would make their first attempts. Some of these children were knitting prodigies from the moment they sat down and learned the mechanics of their first knit stitch. We had a blast showing the next generation of future knitters that they were capable of learning this craft. At the end of the day, the three of us packed up, and left exhausted, we had no idea we would be so busy. I’m hoping to see a few of these children pop up again with needles and yarn in hand.