History: We remember D-Day

Long before I could knit, I was an amateur historian and the first era of history that I fell in love with was the wartime 1940's. The thought that people could sacrifice in the ways they did on the home front was so inspiring to me.

History is not a bunch of boring facts and dates--it's real people who lived and worked and loved and fought and dreamed. It's your grandparents and great-grandparents waiting for letters in the mail, hanging a star in their window, huddled around the radio for the news of the day. It matters more than you think to our current world, because the headlines of today have their roots in yesterday's stories.

Today is an important day in history. It will be remembered more publicly and universally in Europe than in America. For some reason, history is kept alive and passed on to the younger generations much more efficiently in Europe and England and Australia than it is in this country. Today is the 71st anniversary of D-Day.

D-Day was the name given for the invasion of Europe during WWII when more than 160,000 Allied troops invaded enemy-occupied France and began the push that ended the war. To remember D-Day is to remember courage, sacrifice, dedication and excellent leadership.

And of course, it is a day to remember knitters. Knitting had been an important part of home front life in WWI and during WWII, needles were once again clacking with the rhythm of hope and the assurance that every little bit helped.

A pattern from "Practical, Warm Hand Knits for Service Men, published by Fleisher Yarns.

A pattern from "Practical, Warm Hand Knits for Service Men, published by Fleisher Yarns.

As we remember the horrific battles fought on this day in history on those beaches in northern France, don't forget the knitters who were at home, waiting to hear news of those battles.

For more information about wartime knitting and other vintage knitting patterns check out my Pinterest board: Vintage Knitting.

 

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Bootleggers, rum runners and knitters

So I'm reading this book about "Jazz Age" Manhattan and since it's such a big interesting book, I'm sort of immersing myself in the time period. In pondering the ins and outs of what we remember about the 1920's, I'm seeing a lot about Prohibition, night clubs, jazz, urban construction, disreputable leadership and a hero who flew a long ways all alone.

Thus far I have encountered no mention of knitting. Not one. Why then, do I even bring it up? It's not that there were no knitters in the Roaring Twenties, it's just that, sandwiched between the First World War and the Great Depression, both times of increased knitting activity, knitting just wasn't as big during the Jazz Age. Being a student of history, I understand that things ebb and flow in popularity.

This all makes me wonder...in 90 years when historians look back on our time, will there be NO mention of knitting? Will it be such a small part of life in the first part of the new century that it will be forgotten? Or will it go on record as having had a resurgence in popularity that endured despite the ups and downs of the economy and the ubiquitous nature of technology and the "plugged in" generation?

Will Knit in Public events and charity knit-a-longs and enormous knitting conventions make a blip in the history books? Will we be remembered as the generation that brought back the art of making things by hand?

While it is impossible to know the answers to these questions for several generations, what IS possible is for us to do all we can to make sure that knitting does get that mention. It really is up to you and me to make history--this year and next year and for as long as we have the opportunity to make a difference of any type. It's up to us to knit for charity, to learn all we can about knitting, to spread that knitting know-how far and wide and to leave a lasting impact on future generations. When my great-great-grandchild writes the history of the southern United States, 2000-2030, I want it to be written, to be remembered, that we were knitters in our time. I want it to be written that we changed the world for the better, just by picking up sticks and string.

We can do it! Who's with me?

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Fabulous Fair Isle

#01 Nordic Gloves  by Fru Soleng. Knit by my daughter (her 1st Fair Isle project!).

#01 Nordic Gloves by Fru Soleng. Knit by my daughter (her 1st Fair Isle project!).

Fair Isle Knitting really is fabulous. Daunting at first, knitting stranded Fair Isle quickly became something I enjoyed doing, for several reasons:

  • the charts are easy to follow,
  • following the chart made it knit up (relatively) quickly,
  • the results are amazing,
  • it takes just enough extra concentration to do to make it fun

There are rules that define what is a traditional bit of Fair Isle knitting, and there are some knitters that will argue those rules with you. Actually, I might be one of those people.  If you are calling something Fair Isle, but are NOT stranding the colors across the back, but instead are twisting them when changing from one color to the next, then you are knitting Intarsia. The other criteria for something being "Fair Isle" include: using only two colors per row, using only 5 colors or less in the project, and working in the round.

#08 Fair Isle Hat  by Mary Ann Stephens, published in Vogue Knitting, Fall 2011. Knit by me.

#08 Fair Isle Hat by Mary Ann Stephens, published in Vogue Knitting, Fall 2011. Knit by me.

Stranded Fair Isle knitting is commonly thought to have originated on a cold island in the north of Scotland. The double thickness of fabric created by the strands running along the back of the knitting gives an extra warmth needed for the harsh climate there. The bright colors of Fair Isle knitting also included indigo, which would have been, historically, natural indigo. (See? It's everywhere, once you start looking for it!) The actual origin of stranded knitting seems to be possibly Estonia or even Ancient Egypt, but the popularity of the design can definitely be traced to the tiny Fair Isle.

There are two specific spikes in the trend toward Fair Isle knitting: When the future King of England wore a Fair Isle sweater:

and when designers leaned heavily on Fair Isle in the 1960's:

Does this matter now? Well of COURSE it does. Ralph Lauren famously designed a hat like this one for the 2010 US Olympic team:

Team USA Reindeer Hat  by Helena Bristow. Knit by me for my daughter.

Team USA Reindeer Hat by Helena Bristow. Knit by me for my daughter.

And Brooks Brothers is awash with Fair Isle this season, even featuring this on a page of the Christmas 2014 catalog:

It's back and it's better than ever, especially since we can now knit it ourselves, thanks to wonderful yarn choices and patterns galore. Don't like wool (the traditional yarn for traditional Fair Isle)? That's OK, you can use other yarns as well. What? You say you don't really know the first thing about how to knit Fair Isle? No problem. I've been known to teach a class at the drop of a hat!

Mr. Deeds hat.  A pattern I designed to teach fabulous Fair Isle. Great beginner project!

Mr. Deeds hat. A pattern I designed to teach fabulous Fair Isle. Great beginner project!

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A bit more about WWI

Ever since I wrote this post about World War I and the knitting associated with it, I have seen several other articles pop up around the internet about this topic and I thought I'd share.

This one from Australia is interesting in that it discusses the wool issues, covers the First World War through the Korean War, and has some great photos.

This one from Washington State is long but includes some great details about what sorts of things were knit during the war, like "wool helmets and vests, chest covers and fingerless mitts to allow trigger access." Socks (of course), sweaters and "mufflers" were also in demand. Everyone was knitting, expected to knit and discouraged from knitting for personal use. This article really gives you a sense of the pervasiveness of the wartime knitting and the urgency felt by knitters around the world who were asked to knit for the boys in the trenches.

Popular at the time was the notion of not wasting precious time that could be spent knitting.  This "bag of the hour" was both useful and "smart."  Also, note its air distingue [sic].  Très adorable!

Popular at the time was the notion of not wasting precious time that could be spent knitting.  This "bag of the hour" was both useful and "smart."  Also, note its air distingue [sic].  Très adorable!

 

I also discovered that there is a National WWI Museum here in the U.S.  As of this time they don't seem to have a knitting program like the National WWII Museum has, it still looks as though it has many interesting programs and exhibits. The next time you're in Kansas City, MO, check it out--and of course I'm going to want to hear all about it!

Some folks in England are filming a movie about WWI, and some knitters have banded together to knit costumes based on old patterns and recreations from old photos. Be careful following these links if you love history and knitting--I am still wiping the drool off my keyboard.

I will leave you with a Monday Medley of Patterns--all free. Holly Shaltz has a great website with patterns from the era, reinterpreted for modern knitters.  There's even a pattern for socks

You probably figured out that I'm fascinated by all this, so if you see anything else related to WWI out there that you think I might like, especially in commemoration of the 100th anniversary, let me know!

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