Knitting to commemorate the First World War

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Progress on the Vest Scarf

8177 Progress
I’ve been battling some kind of upper respiratory nonsense so I’ve not made as much progress as I had hoped on this pattern. Still, I am working on the right shoulder shaping and will soon work the right armhole. This Rowan yarn (Rowan PureLife in black tea colorway) is absolutely heavenly to work with. I love how soft it feels in my hands — such a comfort when the rest of me isn’t feeling well.

Hmmmm. . . I wonder whether knitters of the past found as much comfort in working the wool?  I am reminded that there was a nasty epidemic of influenza during WWI.  Would those who worried about loved ones have taken comfort in the meditative process of knitting or other needlework?  Was knitting a comfort to them as it is to many of us now?  I wonder.  I with I could speak with some of those knitters of the past.  I’m sure they would have a laugh at our need for this kind of leisure.  What was for them a necessity is for us a hobby.  Our lives have changed so much in 100 years.

My row gauge (supposed to be 6 garter ridges, or 12 rows to the inch) hasn’t held as well, but I think that’s because the stripe pattern isn’t completely in garter stitch. It causes me to wonder whether the numbers in the schematic were accurate. Still, I worked to the center back as directed (8 stripes from the armhole, then then next purl row was the center back) even though it measures about 2 inches longer than specified. I was afraid that if I cut it short the fronts would be out of proportion since they are worked in the same stitch pattern. Stitch gauge is holding well, I’m happy to say. Well, garter stitch was going to stretch out at any rate.

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Veteran’s Day Brings Odd Memories

Grandpa and Dad

November 11 in the USA is celebrated at Veteran’s Day.  It was originally proclaimed Armistice Day in 1919, but in 1954 was changed to the current title in order to honor all those who died while serving in the US military.  While working on my knitting project for this film, it occurred to me that we’ve had a huge effort in the last few decades to remember and celebrate the veterans of WW II.  Perhaps it was because comparatively few people remain who remember that war and that time, and we have had at our disposal a great many options for recording their images and their history.  It spurred me to look a bit into my own family history.

Alas, I found very little.  My paternal grandfather, Otto, has a draft card on file for WWI, but I could find no record of his service. It’s possible that, being in his 20s, he was considered too old at the time, or else he was rejected for a health reason.  Grandpa Otto died in August 1959, just 2 months after I was born.  I never knew him.  In fact, about all I ever knew of him was that he died of a massive stroke.

My dad was diagnosed with insulin-dependent diabetes at an early age; thus, he was never eligible to serve in WW II as his brothers did.  He did his part, however, as a mechanic of some kind working at a local Air Force base (well, it was the Army Air Corps then).  In fact, I have a job now in which I work for a defense contractor on that base.  I joke with my workmates, many of whom are retired military, that I am a congenital civilian.

My dad died on Veteran’s Day in 1979.  It seems a tenuous connection, I’m sure, but every year when this date rolls around I am reminded of him, of how he played “Taps” at the various memorial services our little town held to commemorate those who served and those whose lives were lost.  For a man who was never served a day in uniform, he did everything he could from the sidelines during the war and after it.  I expect that was something he learned from his father.

I was just 20 years old when my dad died.  I barely knew him, really.  He was so ill in those last years of his life, in pain from various surgeries to try to correct all of the genetic problems he was born with.  I like to think that he sees me now, along with all of the grandmothers and grandfathers who did their part at home or on a battle field, knowing that I am doing what I can to knit their love and memories into a film project that will bring to life a few people from that era.  They worked hard; they sacrificed much; they left behind so many little lessons for us, among them how to make do when a bit of yarn and a basic pattern.  We will remember them by the work of our hands.


Vintage Fashion Sense

8177 stitch diagram
I’m working on a wrap-around vest (waistcoat?) from a pattern that dates to 1919. It’s a lovely piece of work: A vest worked side to side (rather than from bottom to top) with knit-on ties that wrap around the body and cinch at the sides.

As a designer of knitting patterns in the modern world, I’m fascinated by the construction of this particular pattern. The front pieces are longer than in the back and the back panel is more narrow that the front. It’s more like a sewing pattern than a knitting pattern, especially in the way that the shoulders join.

In modern knitting, the back and front panels are usually equal in width. If a pullover has a finished bust circumference of 38 inches you would expect a modern pattern to have 19 inches for the back and 19 inches for the front. On a vintage pattern it would be split unevenly so that there would be perhaps 17 inches on the back and 21 inches on the front. This makes perfect sense when you consider how the female form is constructed. 🙂

Garter stitch is used quite a bit in the vintage knitting patterns I’ve seen. It’s not that lace or stockinette or other textured pattern stitches are abandoned; it’s that I’ve noticed quite a lot of garter stitch. I’m wondering whether it’s because of the compact nature of this stitch and how it tends to make the fabric feel doubly thick — important if your goal is warmth!

I’m enjoying how much I am learning by knitting just this one pattern.