Environmental science, traveling, and the sociology of the unraveling American dream.


If you're looking for more about me, I'm pretty much hanging out over at my livejournal these days. I use this account for commenting on other people's blogs.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Rise and fall

Why the recent rise in the popularity of knitting? I for one don't entirely get it -- as someone who was knitting as a kid, back in the bad old days when Red Heart was the standard and Lion Brand Homespun was classy stuff, watching knitting as a hobby turn into something as much fandom as craft has been exhilarating (and sometimes scary). But why now?

The most commonly argued reasoning I've seen is that these things are cyclical, and that the likelihood of knitting for any given individual is related to how traditional "women's work" is perceived in society as a whole. Fair enough. Simple explanation, makes sense on the surface. But why have the past five years seen this sudden resurgence towards knitting as a form of woman's work? Martha Stuart made fashionable housekeeping socially acceptable years ago. Why now?

During both world wars, women were very visible in previously male-dominated work contexts on the homefront. And yet both of these wars were hotbeds for knitting. Given the condition of the trenches, a pair of good wool socks (preferably several) was invaluable during the First World War.

Besides knitting, the children were encouraged to enable others (especially skilled knitters) to knit for the war effort. A 1918 list of 82 suggestions titled "How Can I Help Win The War" places as Number 1, "Do mother's work so she can knit." Along with suggestions to eat sorghum instead of sugar, sing patriotic songs, and plant trees for gun stocks, the list advises (Number 20), "Be careful of my clothes so my mother will not have to patch, and can knit." Number 35 suggests, "Hold yarn for mother while she winds it into a ball," and Number 76, "Help grandma so she will find time to teach mama to knit" ("Little Citizens").

from Knitting For Victory -- World War I.

Of course, during the First World War knitting was of practical use: there were few knitting machines, and using the labor of the home knitters and volunteer knitting brigades to make wool socks, sweaters, hats, and knit bandages made up the lack in machine production capabilities.

But -- here's the interesting thing. During the Second World War, when the machines had greater production capabilities and handknits weren't needed nearly as much as they had been in World War One -- people still knit. It was still considered a vital part of the war effort. Rosie was riviting, women dominated the workforce, and knitting was one of the most important ways to Do Your Part.

We know that people go through changes on the homefront during times of war. So my question: how does knitting fit into that? When did yarn sales start going up? If we could see the figures, did the sales grow steadily, or was there a sudden surge in the final quarter of 2001?

And with that question, I send you out on a patriotic knitting song from May 1918.

Johnnie, get your yarn, get your yarn, get your yarn;
Knitting has a charm, has a charm, has a charm,
See us knitting two by two,
Boys in Seattle like it too.
Hurry every day, don't delay, make it pay.
Our laddies must be warm, not forlorn mid the storm.
Hear them call from o're the sea,
'Make a sweater, please for me.'
Over here everywhere,
We are knitting for the boys over there,
It's a sock or a sweater, or even better
To do your bit and knit a square.