Wednesday 6 July 2011

World War I Knitted Comforts

Knitted Comforts for Men on Land and Sea

Here is another pattern booklet from the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection at Lee Mills, Beehive Booklet No. 17.  Knitting "comforts" for the troops was common during the First World War.  Richard Rutt, in his book A History of Hand Knitting says: "The First World War stimulated British knitting to the point where it was regarded as as a national mania".  It was helpful for the women at home to feel that they were doing something, however minor, for the men fighting in the trenches and at sea.

This booklet has a collection of patterns, mostly devised by Marjory Tillotson, who was the chief designer for Baldwin's.  (Baldwin's merged with Paton's in 1920.)  Her career is outlined in Richard Rutt's book. It was unusual then, and for decades afterwards, for the designers of knitting patterns to be identified, but in this case her full name is given with the first pattern, and most of the others have her initials at the end.

The booklet is in rather poor condition, unfortunately - all the pages have become separated and two are missing.  But the surviving pages include patterns for a "Plain helmet (or Balaclava cap)", a sleeping cap, bedsocks, several kinds of sock, a seaman's jersey and a "Coat Sweater (or Cardigan)". The Crimean War terms (balaclava, cardigan) were presumably not widely recognised at that time, and so could not be used by themselves without further explanation. 

Stout steering gloves

There are also mittens (actually what we would call fingerless mittens) and two thicknesses of "steering gloves", which we would call mittens, with little diagrams giving detailed measurements.  There is a note saying that "The original garments have been approved by the R.N.M.D.S.F. - to whom the publishers are indebted for the use of several illustrations giving the Standard Measurements."   I asked Google about the R.N.M.D.S.F., without much hope of finding anything, but in fact the organisation still exists - the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen.  Their web site notes that much of the mine-sweeping work in both world wars was carried out by the fishermen and their vessels, and indeed the "Knitted Comforts" booklet says that the garments will be of great use for men engaged in mine-sweeping.

I especially like the illustration on the front, of the intended recipients (a Royal Navy sailor, a fisherman, a soldier) chatting on the quay.  Though the soldier does look surprisingly like Stalin.


  1. This is an interesting post on knitting comforts.
    I have often wondered if the Queen Mum knit
    during the blitz !

  2. Barbara, do you know from your pattern whether the comforts had to be knitted in regulation colours, or if other sades were acceptable? Sounds like a real find! Happy knitting

    1. The leaflet doesn't specify the colours to use, except for a seaman's jersey where the instructions say that the yarn recommended is a navy blue that won't be affected by sea water. I assume that most things knitted for soldiers would have been khaki, but I haven't seen anything to confirm that.

  3. Hello Barbara and thank you for the wonderful tam pattern. I am working on it now. It is very easy to follow. My husband and I are going to the Scotland and England in May. I plan on taking this tam with me as I know it does rain a lot around the time we are going. I love vintage patterns. It's really the only way these days to get a unique design. I was wondering if you might enlighten me as to how you knitted your first mock up from the original pattern. The one you said was too square. Is it possible to get a copy of that pattern? Also, I would like to send you a picture of the one I am working on. I did post it on under your pattern from Piecework. Thank you again! I love my tam!


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