Wednesday 10 September 2014

Knitting for Tommy

Apologies for the long gap since the last post - been busy.

One of the things I have been doing is reading a new book on knitting in the First World War - Knitting for Tommy by Lucinda Gosling.  I  have been waiting for it for several months, because  I supplied some of the images, from the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, and also saw a draft version of the text.  And a couple of weeks ago, Luci sent me a copy of the finished book (which was actually published on 4th August, for the centenary).  It's lovely to see it all come together, with lots of other images from the Mary Evans Picture Library.  And here and there I recognise the ones from the collection - a couple of ads for spinners, promoting their khaki yarn, and several pages from Woman's Own magazine with knitting patterns for comforts for the troops.

Luci has done a lot of research in publications of the time - there are no other books on First World War knitting that I know of, so hers had to be based on original sources.  The Mary Evans Picture Library has runs of several magazines of the period, including The Queen, Punch, The Tatler, that she has been able to use.   The Queen had a needlecraft column and during the First World War, it published several patterns for knitted comforts designed by Henrietta Warleigh - as Luci points out, an unusual instance at that time of a named designer.  

 The Library also has a collection of First World War postcards, including several with knitting subjects -- usually sketches or cartoons, sometimes featuring winsome little girls. Some of these illustrate Luci's chapter on Knitting Fun, along with cartoons from Punch.

The book reproduces several knitting patterns that are readable, although perhaps not as easy to follow as we would expect these days.  So it would be possible, with a bit of interpretation and perhaps some experimentation in adapting them to modern yarns, to knit a wide variety of comforts from this book.  There are socks, body belts, waistcoats, mufflers, and cardigans.  There are several caps and helmets, and an amazing variety of gloves and mittens, with and without fingers, including the rifle glove that has an open thumb and first finger, and a mitten part to cover the other fingers. And as well as garments intended for serving soldiers, there are specialised garments for the wounded, to cater for a range of injuries.

For anyone who is interested in the topic, this is an indispensable book.


  1. The cover grabbed my attention straight away. It looks very apt for the time

    1. I think the cover design is very clever - it's a composite of two illustrations from the book. It looks as though the woman knitting is thinking of the man in the Balaclava at the top, and all the things she's knitting for him - although that image is actually taken from a ad for Ladyship yarn.

  2. Goodness that looks fascinating, have added it to my wishlist for now, no doubt won't be long before I succumb!

  3. An excellent book. Fascinating insights into the culture of "knitting for the boys" during the war. The patterns are, as you say, confusing for modern knitters, but some "translated" patterns are available online. I'll be keeping my reenacting mates well-stocked for upcoming cold events! Enjoying your blog!

  4. As you look into knitting books of this vintage - especially "knit for the troops" books, could you please keep an eye open for mentions of grafting on sock toes? The cross-Atlantic nomenclature of grafting in the UK and Kitchener Stitch in the US/Canada continues to fascinate me. Why should the land of Kitchener in his decade of prominence not use his name for the technique, while overseas folk did? Grafting as a written-about and published technique seems to have first debuted around this time, and specific sightings under any name would be most useful! Thanks in advance for any/all investigations!

  5. I do already keep a look out for mentions of Kitchener in connection with grafting. It was not a new technique in WW1 - it was described occasionally well before that. I have not seen any mention of Kitchener as having anything to do with grafting, in U.K. sources. Someone recently pointed out a reference to Kitchener toes in a New Zealand newspaper in (I think) 1914 - that may be the origin. It does seem that the term was not used at all in this country until recently, and then it was adopted from the U.S.


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