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Wartime Crochet With Attitude, Part I

Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Karen Ballard and I have a mutual love of free form crochet. We met for the first time in a class taught by Prudence Mapstone of Australia at the Chain Link Crochet Conference 2011. I admire Karen's vast knowledge of needle work history and am grateful for her willingness to share with us as my guest blogger this week.

Karen wearing a World War II-era knitting hat with stubby needles on top

Karen's Heritage Heart, with flowers symbolic of her heritage, is currently on tour with Prudence Mapstone's traveling "Hearts & Flowers Exhibition" in Australia and New Zealand 
World War 1 Attitudes About Crochet by Karen Ballard

In 2008, I coined that term, "Workbasket Campaigns" to describe the organized efforts during World War I (WWI) and World War II (WWII) coordinated through the American Red Cross {ARC} and the Navy League to create needle crafted items.  These items were mostly knitted but also sewn, quilted, and crocheted for, or in support of, the military, wounded, allies, refugees, and the patriotic home-front. This effort was a significant: contribution of enormous numbers of needed items to those in war-torn areas and of improved morale for those on the home-front.  

As a crocheter, I realized with embarrassment that I had very  little information on war-time crochet.  I have since  paid particular attention to crochet during the World War eras. Please bear in mind that information on crochet during the world wars is greatly limited.  There are literally hundreds of knitted items, bags, tools, patterns, books, magazine articles/covers, paper dolls, posters, postcards, photos, knitted items, sheet music, even plays, and at least one movie referencing wartime knitting; but there are negligible numbers of references to crochet. I have red, white, and blue knitting kits from both wars which contain crochet hooks, possibly only intended for knitters who like to finish their projects with crocheted edges.

Patriotic kits
Patriotic US crocheting during WWI seemed almost to have been limited to making items for relief organizations, making crocheted knitting bags, even making knitting needle point protectors by crocheting over rifle shells, along with making patriotic home-front crocheted items.  The latter includes filet crochet designs of soldiers, sailors, and the Great Seal published by the incomparable Mary Card.1&2.

Mary Card US Soldier
Mary Card's US Sailor
Mary Card's US Flag

Mary Card's Great Seal of the United States
However, among hundreds of knitting patterns, I have found only a handful of US crochet garment patterns, including: a "Trench Cap,”3 , ear protectors3     
Helmet and Ear Protectors
wristlets4, helmets4&5 (like ski masks), a scarf6, ties7    and mine sweepers gloves.

Maud Nicholl's Mine Sweeper gloves
None of these patterns were endorsed by the ARC or the Navy League.  It seems that it was OK to crochet for our allies: Gertrude M. Walbran’s 1918  Khaki Knitting Book8published by Allies Special Aid of New York.
Khaki Knitting Book
includes crocheted blankets, mufflers, scarf, hospital stockings, wristlets, and a French Soldier’s Cap, all in one book!  

French Soldier's Cap from Khaki Knitting Book
There is even an ARC endorsed pattern for a French-relief crocheted circular shawl.

French Relief Shawl
Modern PriscillaMagazine (April 1918) provides a crocheted army sweater pattern “perhaps of use to those who do not knit”, and followed by the disclaimer, “While this crocheted Army Sweater has not been authorized by the ARC Society, the need for sweaters is too great to refuse a really good crocheted one, if one must crochet and cannot knit.  The knitted sweater is preferred because it is much more elastic, and for that reason warmer.”  I doubt the claim of greater warmth is true.  But there is validity in another argument against crochet, that for comparable garments, crochet requires more yarn.  This was an important concern, when yarn reserves were so greatly limited that they almost ran out during the latter part of the war, resulting in a critical shortage of socks.

The French did not seem to have the same bias against crochet.  During WWI they published comparatively numerous crochet patterns for military clothing, especially for crocheted “helmets”. 

French Helmet from Vetements Chauds book
Patriotic French Crocheters
Unlike US knitting books which rarely include crochet patterns, the booklet Vêtements Chauds pour Les Soldats et les Réfugiés modèles au tricot et au crochet10 has both knitting and crochet patterns for all garments. I have French postcards each with a woman who appears to be crocheting and showing an inset of a soldier. There is a French news magazine11 with a full-page spread of girls knitting and crocheting for their military. 

Young Crocheters from French news magazine. Miroir
I thought the French were not biased against crochet until I found a poem on another WWI postcard, published in Paris. 

French Knit/Crochet poem on a post card
The poem indicates that girls were forsaking crocheting trinkets to continuously knit sweaters and socks (with prayers in each stitch) for their soldiers.  In other words, crochet was envisioned as something fun to do to create trinkets, rather than for the serious business of making garments for soldiers. 

Although I have not found any WWI British, Canadian, or Australian postcards depicting patriotic crocheting,  Mary Card also designed filet crochet charts of patriotic symbols for Australia13  (her homeland) and Great Britain.  
Mary Card's Coat of Arms
There is at least one British Weldon’s with patterns for crocheted bed and operation stockings14.  

Weldon's Operation Stocking
And I have a filet crochet pillow-top of a 1915 war ship with British flags.

Karen's pillow top
None of the US, British, Canadian, Australian, German, Austrian, or Hungarian WWI postcards in my collection depict patriotic crocheting; only knitting and some sewing.  It appears that patriotic crochet took a backseat to knitting throughout WWI for all the primary nations that participated in the war.

Stay tuned for a future article on World War II (and beyond) attitudes about crochet!

1 Needlecraft Magazine Oct. 1918 Flag& Soldier, Dec. 1918 Sailor Boy
2 Mary Card Giant Charts: Flag & Soldier, Sailor Boy, Great Seal of US
3 Richardson’s Crochet & Knitting No.21, (c1917) Richardson Silk Co., Chicago & NY, pg21.
4 Useful Articles for Army and Navy (c1917) Golden Fleece.
5 Valeire, Anna; Knitted & Crocheted Sweaters & Things New in YarnArmy-Navy Wearings Book No. 5 (c1918) E. C. Spuehler, NY.
6 Plain & Fancy Needlework Vol.11, No.10, June 1917
7 Nicoll, Maud Churchill; Knitting & Sewing  How to Make 70 Useful Articles for Men in the Army & Navy (1918)
8 Walbran, Gertrude M. Khaki Knitting Book (1918) Allies Special Aid, NY.
9 Modern Priscilla Magazine, April 1918, crocheted sweater;  June 1918 French Relief Shawl.
10 Vêtements Chauds pour Les Soldats et les Réfugiés  modèles au tricot et au crochet (1915) Librairie Hachette et Cie, Paris.
11 Le Miroir, Noël  1914, pg 4.
12 Thanks to Melanie Gall for translation,  Melanie created the CD of WWI knitting songs, Knitting All the Day, and soon will be releasing another CD of WWII knitting songs.
13 Mary Card’s Crochet Book No. 2 (1923) Fitchet Pty, Ltd., Melborne, Australia
14 Weldon’s Garments and Hospital Comforts for our Soldiers and Sailors (1916) pgs10-11.


Barbara said…
I'm pleased to have found your article - it's really interesting. There are similar "patriotic" filet crochet designs in British WW1 magazines, and also some crochet patterns for the troops. A few of the patriotic designs can be seen in a couple of blog posts I have written - see for instance, I haven't seen any postcards of crochet, though - I would love to know if any of those were published in Britain.
Karen C.K. Ballard said…
Barbara, Thank you for you for your comments and for the link to your blog posts. They, too, are very interesting! Now, I have magazine issues to seek for my collection. All the WWI postcards depicting crochet are published in France and I have not found any WWII postcards depicting crochet. However, I just wrote an article on crochet cards from late 1800s to 1960s for the Crochet Guild of America & I retain ownership of it. Some of those cards were published in Britain. If interested, please email me: Warmly, Karen
viknitter said…
Great article. Thank you.
Do you know if French relief shawl pattern is available in public domain? I have had no luck finding it.
viknitter said…
Great article. Thank you.
Do you know if French relief shawl pattern is available in public domain? I have had no luck finding it.
viknitter, Thanks for your kudos. Any copyrights dating to WWI should be in public domain. However, I do not have a pattern for this shawl from that date. It was pictured in a magazine with instructions where on could obtain a pattern. However, I do have a published ARC pattern for the WWII French Relief Shawl. There is no picture on the WWII pattern and I do not know if it is the same as the WWI one. Although copyrights from WWII era have not necessarily fallen into public domain, since the ARC was keen to have these items made and since they distributed the patterns very widely, I strongly suspect they were never copyrighted. I guess you could check with the ARC to verify that the WWII patterns are in public domain. Let me know if you would like a copy of the WWII pattern. I feel confident that I would not be violating copyright laws in making a photo-copy. Regards, Karen
Bonnie said…
How did I miss this when it was written? Karen, I admire your scholarship and ability to write about crochet and other needlework.

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