What is Bohus Knitting?
Bohus knitting is a thing of wonder and beauty. But what's it all about?
It comes from a vintage Swedish knitting co-operative named Bohus Stickning, which operated as a cottage industry between 1939 and 1969. Designed to provide income for poor families in Bohuslän, Sweden, during the Great Depression, the resulting knitwear was sold to shops all over the world, with designs by people like Emma Jacobsson proving particularly popular. The work of the women of Bohuslän Province remains highly desirable, a knitting style loved by millions.
How Bohus Stickning started
Emma Jacobsson was the wife of the governor of Bohuslän. In 1937, when times were hard, a group of local women asked her to help set up a co-operative to improve economic opportunities for local low-income families. After some experimentation they decided on knitting, which didn't require special equipment, large amounts of space or much training.
Hand knitted clothes became their focus, and Bohus Stickning was officially opened on 12 th September 1939, led by the inspirational Emma Jacobsson. In the early days they made mittens and socks, sold by Emma to department stores in Stockholm and beyond. The wares proved so popular the women soon started making scarves, hats, sweaters, and jackets, specialising in women's clothing.
Bohuslän didn't have a tradition for knitting, so they started from scratch. The 1940s saw the characteristic Bohus Stickning style emerging, a series of gorgeous multicoloured patterns in lightweight wool or angora created using a unique combination of knit and purl.
As more women joined, more luscious designs appeared
Over the years Emma was joined by Vera Bjurström, Anna-Lisa Mannheimer Lunn, Annika Malmström-Bladini, Kerstin Olson and Karin Ivarsson, Mona Reuterberg and plenty more, with Göta Trägårdh acting as a fashion advisor. It didn't take long for the Bohus Stickning brand to take over Swedish fashion, worn by famous women like Helena Rubinstein, Ingrid Bergman and Grace Kelly.
1995 saw Wendy Keele publish a brilliant book, Poems of Color: Knitting in the Bohus Tradition and the Women Who Drove This Swedish Cottage Industry. It drove a dramatic revival in the craft, and Bohus Stickning style work went international. In 1999 a master dyer working with the Bohusläns Museum, Solveig Gustafsson, decided to recreate a number of original designs and offered both the patterns and dyed yarns for sale. And the rest, as they say, is history.
A tradition that has spread the world over
Ever since then the tradition has carried on, through different people. At one point an angora rabbit farmer, Pernille Silfverberg, took over and expanded the number of patterns available. In 2009 Susanna Hansson and Wendy J. Johnson curated an exhibition called Bohus Stickning. Radiant Knits: An Enchanting Obsession, which opened at the USA's American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and it drove even more publicity.
These days knitters all over the world are creating Bohus knit masterpieces, and the style has become a legend in its own lifetime. You'll be glad to know what alpaca wool is the perfect yarn for the job!
Les Tricoteuses de la guillotine - The knitting women of the French Revolution
Knitting is innately peaceful. Or is it? Not when there's a revolution in the wind...
Tricot is a plain, fine, warp-knitted fabric, either natural or man-made. A Tricoteuse is French for a 'knitting woman', both a nickname and a specific term to describe the women who sat beside Paris' deadly guillotine while people were publicly executed, calmly knitting. They apparently carried on knitting right through the executions, and knitted all sorts of items including the infamous liberty cap, also known as the Phrygian bonnet, a conical cap whose top bends forwards, worn in ancient times and not dissimilar to the Roman cap of Liberty, a 'pileus'.
Knitting can be political - When the market women marched on Versailles
One of the earliest signs of rebellion was the famous market Women's March on Versailles, which took place in early October 1789, intended to rail against rocketing food prices and chronic shortages. Thousands of poor women from the markets of Paris spontaneously marched to the Palace of Versailles to protest, and their efforts gained them a great deal of respect. King Louis XVI met their demands and was even forced to abandon Versailles and return to Paris, to rule from the nation's spiritual home.
The march wasn't expected to be a success. Louis was egotistical and edgy, and many predicted revenge-fuelled carnage. But the market women fast gained an almost magical status and soon became famous in their own right. They didn't have a leader as such. But their powerful group identity, and the way they took the moral high ground with ease was celebrated far and wide. The so-called Mothers of the Nation were the celebrities of the time, and their opinions were widely sought by politicians for years afterwards.
Sadly the women's ongoing straight talking, rebelliousness and disrespect for those in power eventually made them a political liability, and the increasingly authoritarian revolutionary government became totally fed up with them. In 1793 the revolution began in earnest and the market women, by that time seen as dangerously unpredictable, were not made welcome. In May the same year they found themselves excluded from their seats in the spectator galleries of the National Convention. A few days after that they were prohibited from joining any political gathering, of any kind, and their voices were finally silenced.
The veterans of the march and their supporters didn't go quietly, though. They met at the guillotine in the Place de la Révolution, these days the Place de la Concorde, and performed the role of disapproving onlookers as people's heads rolled. The knitting they did while they sat there led to them being named Les Tricoteuses, the knitting-women.
Next time you pick up your needles and yarn, remember that knitting isn't always the peaceful pastime we imagine it to be. It can affect politics, change lives, and drive cultural and social change.
Knitted lace traditions from around the world
Many countries have their own distinctive style of lace knitting. Britain is no different. The most famous British lace knitting of all is probably from the Shetland Islands, which lie on the shipping route between Scandinavia, Iceland, Greenland, Scotland, the Mediterranean and the United States. Here's some insight into an ancient tradition that can be broken down into three categories: Orenberg lace, Shetland lace, and Estonian lace.
Lace Knitting on the Shetland islands
Knitting on the Shetlands goes back at least as far as the 1600s. By the 1700s the islanders were profiting from their skills, exchanging their work for money and goods, and by 1901 around 30% of all islanders were involved in the hosiery trade.
Lace knitting on Shetland kicked off in the 1840s, thanks to better transport links between the islands and the mainland. Islanders brought in the latest, most fashionable lace articles to copy, and the northernmost island of Unst profited thanks to its legendary finely spun yarn made from the neck of sheep, perfect for delicate, expensive lace shawls and scarves.
Shetland lace was expensive and luxurious. It was also unique, with no casting on or off. You'd simply start off with one stitch then knit the edges diagonally on the bias. No wonder it was loved so much by Queen Victoria, who often commissioned it for herself and as gifts.
Shetland lace tends to be either garter or stocking stitch, and the pattern is worked on the right and wrong-side rows.
Russian knitted lace from Orenburg
Orenburg lace can be traced back to the Orenburg region of Russia, at the remote, dramatic southern tip of the Ural Mountains. It's an oral tradition passed down through countless generations. The industry was so vital to the area that the Russian government subsidised the production of lace for many decades, something that only came to an end in 1995.
Traditional Orenburg knitted lace features ten main motifs: peas, honeycomb, fish eye, mouse print, strawberry, large strawberry, cat's paw, accordion, chain heart, and diagonal. In Orenburg lace, the pattern is worked on both right and wrong-side rows. The lace tends to be knitted in garter stitch and the holes in honeycomb, sometimes with two and sometimes three rows.
Estonian knitted lace traditions
Estonian lace has its own set of unique stitches, used to create the Lily of the Valley pattern that's so famous in the region. They're also hot on edging. Estonian scarves and shawls usually have a scalloped edge, made via the region's special nupp stitch, and often feature flower motifs.
The town of Haapsalu, on the west coast of Estonia, sat at the hub of all this activity, which started around 200 years ago when Russia ruled Estonia. The women in Haapsalu, on Estonia's west coast, started a lace shawl knitting tradition that remains to this day.
The lace they make features dozens of complex patterns including twig, leaf, ash leaf, birch leaf, blueberry, ligonberry and lady bug, and the famous nupp – a bobble-shape – completes the picture. They also create interesting and unusual textures thanks to varying the placement of knitted-together stitches.
Can you learn to knit lace?
The simple answer is yes, you can learn to knit lace. There might even be a class in your area. There are certainly plenty of books to start you off, including the First Book of Modern Lace Knitting by Marianne Kinzel, first published back in 1972 and still available second hand at Amazon.
Fun with wool - Continental versus British knitting styles
You go to Europe, and people knit in the exact same way we do here in Britain... or do they? In fact knitters don't all knit the same way, and the difference is about much more than simply the way you hold the needles. Every individual knitter has their own unique way of placing and holding the yarn, and creating the right tension. It all goes to create your own knitting style. And we tend to do things very differently over in Europe than we do over here.
What's the difference between continental knitting styles and the way we do things in Britain, on our lovely little island? The first thing to say is that neither one is right or wrong, they're just different. There's no rivalry, and learning both styles will liven up your knitting life no end.
What's the difference between continental and UK knitting?
The main difference in English vs. Continental knitting is the way the yarn is wrapped around the right needle before you pull it through to create a stitch. English-style knitting is sometimes called 'throwing' or 'American knitting' while continental knitting involves 'picking'. Continental knitting is also called German knitting, left-handed knitting, or European knitting. Here's how the two methods differ.
About English style knitting:
- You hold the wool in your right hand
- You throw the wool when wrapping
- This style is a lot easier when using chunky yarns
- You hold the wool in your left hand
- You pick up the wool when wrapping
- This style makes for much faster knit stitch, but a slower purl stitch
- Because it's easier to alternate between knits and purls, continental knitting is perfect for alternating seed stitch and ribbing
- People who already crochet tend to find this style easier to learn that English knitting
Which to choose?
Some say knitting continental style is faster than English style, and plenty of the planet's fastest knitters use the continental style because it takes fewer movement to make a stitch. It's also popular with people who suffer from repetitive stress injuries. And while some believe continental style knitting is best for the left-handed amongst us, both methods are fine for both hands. After all, one always knits with the right and left hands!
Changing your knitting style has physical benefits
Knitters, like anyone else who makes lots of repetitive movements, can suffer from RSI, repetitive strain injuries. Changing your knitting style can relieve your wrists and hands, reducing the pain and strain. English style demands a completely different hand and wrist action than continental, where the yarn is 'picked'.
Both can leave you with RSI, but combining the two means the effect of all those repeated actions is lessened. Plenty of people also find that the continental method demands a different tension, which also helps reduce pain.
However you like to knit, our stunning wools and yarns will help you make something totally stunning. Why not explore our collection and get inspired?
Get Hooked on Crochet – Spring into action with alpaca wool!
Do you like knitting? How about crochet? If you're looking to make beautiful garments and accessories from our lovely, soft, warm alpaca wool, crocheting is just as fascinating as knitting, with the same much potential. Here's a potted history of crochet to inspire you.
What is crochet?
Crochet is a means of making complicated fabrics using interlocking loops of yarn and a crochet hook. It comes from the French word crochet, a small hook, which in turn comes from the German word for hook, croc. It differs from knotting in that every stitch is finished before moving on to the next one, while knitting involves keeping a long string of stitches open until the garment or other item is finished.
When was crochet invented?
The Dutch women's magazine Penélopé mentioned crochet in 1823, also featuring a colour illustration of three silk thread purses made using it. One was made using the very simplest open crochet, merely a mesh of chain-stitches. The second alternates chain stitch with long slip-stitch, and the third is made entirely from double-crochet.
In the UK garments made from crocheted cloth – often called Shepherd's Knitting – were mentioned in the memoirs of a Highland Lady, a book written by Elizabeth Grant in around 1812 but not published until 1898. The 1840s saw a flurry of books published on the subject, one of which mentions that crochet was originally a Scottish craft, practised by the peasants in Scotland and says, "This art has attained its highest degree of perfection in England, whence it has been transplanted to France and Germany, and both countries, although unjustifiably, have claimed the invention."
The end of the Victorian era saw trendy Edwardians adopting crochet as their own, and between 1910 and 1920 it was incredibly popular, becoming more elaborate and complex in response. It was popular through the WW2 years, when making do and mending was the done thing, and again in the 1970s, when super-skinny models wore super-short dresses and tabards made from colourful crochet squares. And now, in 2018, it is fast becoming a trending topic again thanks to a resurgence in handicrafts and DIY, along with today's strong trend for recycling and up-cycling.
Who designs with Crochet today
The British design team Body Map has used crochet to explore the appeal of 'home made' inspired clothing. Irish designer Lainey Keogh uses crochet widely in her wonderful work. Vivienne Westwood is a big crochet fan and Jean Paul Gaultier has combined knitting and crochet to subvert fashion. Helen Rodel, Celia B, Katie Jones Knit, Anna Kosturov, Dolce and Gabbana, and John and Simone Rocha all use crochet in their couture collections.
7 basic crochet stitches to learn
There are seven basic kinds of crochet stitch apart from your initial foundation chain, which is how every piece of crochet starts life
- Chain stitch
- Slip stitch
- Double crochet
- Half treble
- Double treble
- Triple treble
You can also do longer basic stitches, called Quadruple Treble, Quintuple Treble, Sextuple Treble and so on, created by winding your yarn multiple times over the hook at the start then wrapping / drawing through two loops several times to finish complete the stitch.
There are some advanced stitches too, many of which are made using combinations of basic stitches, or by inserting your hook in unusual places. Once you've mastered the basics you can move on to exciting things like shell stitch, V stitch, spike, Afghan, butterfly, popcorn, cluster and crocodile stitches.
Things to make using crocheting
You can crochet with really fine silk thread if you like, for a stunning delicate result, or go big and use really chunky wool, even string, twine, rope, unravelled winter woollies, even strips of thin fabric knotted together. And crochet can be used to create a huge range of lovely things, including:
- Beautiful hats and scarves
- Thick, warm throws for beds and settees
- Gloriously colourful winter coats and jackets, lined for extra warmth
- Dresses, skirts and jumpers
- Headbands and leg warmers
- A cup holder to keep your coffee cosy
- A case for your smartphone or spectacles
- Baby blankets
- Cushion covers for settees
- Pet beds
5 easy places to get crochet inspiration
Here are some links to great places stuffed solid with excellent crochet ideas.
Have you seen our lovely art deco Brittany Birch crochet hooks- why not treat yourself. If you are just learning you can use any wool or yarn from your stash to practice with. However once you have mastered it wouldn't it be lovely to tackle your fist project using our lovely Chilla Valley Alpaca or one of our other luxury yarns from the range.
15 Interesting Facts About Natural Fibres
Fibres are hair-like threads that form the building blocks of most wools, yarns and fabrics. There are two groups of fibre, natural and synthetic. Natural fibres come from animals and plants, for example alpaca wool from a quirky South Andean mammal; linen, hemp, cotton, jute, coir and sisal from plants, and silk from moth pupae.
Fabrics made from synthetic fibres include Nylon, Acrylic, Viscose, Microfibre, Polyester, Lycra and – the ultimate in 1960s and '70s fashion horror stories – Crimpelene, originally discovered through boiling Astronlon-C polyamide yarn and Astralene-C polyester yarn in a pressure cooker. Nasty!
Just like natural fibres, synthetics can be spun into filaments, threads, wool, yarns or twine that can then be woven, knitted, matted or bound into a remarkable variety of materials. Natural fibres usually have short fibres called staple fibres, but synthetic fibres can be made as long as they need to be.
It's fascinating stuff, don't you think? Here are 15 of our favourite facts facts about natural fibres.
15 fun facts about natural fibres
- Silk fibres, unlike other natural fibres, feature incredibly long continuous filaments up to a kilometre long, unravelled carefully from the silkworm's pupa case either by hand or by machine
- Silk was first harvested by the Chinese as early as 2700 BC. Like us, have you ever wondered how they discovered that the strange stuff that came from moth pupa cases was weavable?
- Fragments of ancient cotton cloth dating back to 5000 BC have been discovered on two different continents, Mexico and Pakistan
- True cashmere only comes from the Kashmir goat, which lives in the Himalayas. Their fine undercoat hair is used to make luxurious and desirable cashmere yarn
- More than 100 nations produce wool, on an impressive half a million or so sheep farms
- The world's oldest ever woollen cloth was found in Denmark and dates back to 1500 BC
- The oldest woollen carpet was discovered in chilly Siberia, found to date back to 500 BC
- Manila Hemp, AKA Abaca, was long the best fibre for making ship ropes and rigging. It was also the favoured material for making Manila envelopes, hence the name. These days it is about to enjoy a resurgence as a greener, kinder alternative to the glass fibre used in cars
- Hemp fibre comes from the Cannabis sativa L. plant, not to be confused with marijuana. Some countries have become confused, however, and have restricted its production. Hemp is one of the earliest plants to be used for it fibres, by ancient peoples as early as 4500 BC
- Cotton remains the king of natural fibres, selling more than any other fabric worldwide
- Flax is one of the strongest natural fibres ever discovered
- The hair of baby camels is incredibly rare and luxurious, harvested from Bactrian camels in remote Mongolia to make stunning camel hair yarns
- Also called China Grass, Ramie is a coarse plant fibre used to make nets and rope. But when spun wet the yarn is wonderfully fine, lightweight and silky-feeling, very like quality linen. Korea's traditional costumes are made from Ramie
- The angora is an Old World domestic rabbit breed whose fur grows twice as fast as other rabbits. The resulting hollow fibre is classified as a wool, seriously luxurious
- Humans first domesticated sheep around ten thousand years ago. The animals are native to Europe and Asia, where they live high up in remote mountain ranges
Talking about beautiful, durable natural fibres... we sell the most gorgeous wools and yarns, perfect for scrumptious knits of every kind. Hop over to our yarns page for inspiration, including wool from our very own herd of alpacas,
Knit and Crochet Your Way to Health and Happiness
You know that feeling you sometimes get when you've just woken up? Your mind is perfectly empty. You are at perfect peace. All is well with the world. Well, that's what it's like being engrossed in your knitting. You are in the zone, in the present, not worrying about the future or fretting about the past, not thinking much at all. And it's one of the best feelings there is.
If you've ever settled down to enjoy a lovely, chilled knitting session, you'll already have a handle on how wonderful the process of knitting and crochet feels. Did you know that knitting can genuinely benefit your health and mood? Knit for Peace has created a report on the many health benefits of knitting, exploring evidence-based research as well as the results of a survey that quizzed a thousand keen Knit for Peace knitters. It looks like our favourite pastime is much more than mere fun.
Hypnotic, repetitive, rhythmic knitting
Knitting is almost hypnotic. You carefully count your stitches, you calmly repeat the same actions again and again, and the item you're creating grows rhythmically. You zone out, using your muscle memory instead of your conscious mind. That rhythmic, repetitive motion has the same benefits as actual meditation or self-hypnosis. It's a powerful form of mindfulness, and mindfulness is big news these days. Mindful people are widely thought to be calmer and happier thanks to a calm focus on the present moment, and an acknowledgement and acceptance of their feelings, thoughts and physical sensations. It can be a life-changer.
Everybody's doing it!
No wonder knitting is more popular than ever. Hop on the Brighton to London commuter train and you'll find a men's knitting group doing their thing. Look up 'knitting groups' on Google and pages and pages of them pop up. Check out Knit for Peace, which began life as a way for victims of war and strife in Africa to generate money then spread like wildfire to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Afghanistan.
According to Knitters for Peace there are more than 20,000 knitters in Britain. Most are retired, but the fast-growing trends for making and mending, re-purposing and reviving traditional crafts means younger generations are joining in. More or less everyone who gives it a go finds knitting enhances their pleasure in life and improves their well-being. Knit for Peace's report on the Health Benefits of Knitting supports these facts.
The many brilliant health benefits of knitting
Knitting stimulates almost all of your brain at once. It lights up like a Christmas tree. The frontal lobe, the bit of your brain that processes rewards, attention and planning, is kept happy. Your parietal lobe, the place that deals with sensory information and spatial navigation, is occupied. The occipital lobe, the processor of visual information, is involved and the temporal lobe where your memories are stored and language interpreted is kept busy. Your cerebellum, the area that coordinates and times movement, is happy and active. You can see why knitting helps people with Parkinson's disease by improving their motor functions and fine motor skills as well as distracting them from pain.
It's clear that knitting lowers the blood pressure and provides a real sense of well-being. It works against depression, slows the onset of dementia, and you can carry on knitting through thick and thin, into extreme old age, as long as you still have the use of your hands and eyes. Over 60s find knitting for other people makes them feel part of their community, useful and not so socially isolated. Knitting and crocheting can lower your heart rate, reduce your blood pressure and cut levels of the stress hormone cortisol. And, even better than meditation, the beautiful and useful things you make also serve to improve your self-esteem, giving you a well-deserved sense of pride in your creations. Last but by no means least, working with wool makes for healthier joints. Exercising your finger joints keeps them in good condition, building up the cartilage effectively without strain.
Join the knitting revolution
If you love the look of our sumptuous wools and would like to make knitting part of your life, there's bound to be a knitting group near you. If you would rather go it alone, you'll also feel the very real benefits knitting brings to your physical and emotional life. Go on, tap into that amazing knitting magic
All About Shetland Yarns – Beautiful, Colourful, Versatile
Shetland yarns are famously lovely, a sheer delight to knit. And humans have been using the wool for a very long time indeed. Archaeological evidence reveals people on the islands have been raising sheep for their fleece on the islands for at least 4500 years. The remains of primitive Soay sheep kept by early Neolithic farmers prove the point, found during the excavation of the prehistoric site at Jarlshof on Shetland itself. So why is Shetland wool so popular, and what's the history behind the islands' long history of textile-making?
About the Shetland sheep – Small yet beautiful
The Shetland sheep is a small, slow-growing breed that actually originated in the Shetland Isles, a Northern European short-tailed type that's related to the Scottish Dunface, sadly now extinct. Its fine, super-soft wool isn't the only product that makes the Shetland sheep a unique animal. The meat is delicious, and being so resilient it's also a great choice for conservation grazing projects designed to revive and protect rare indigenous grasslands.
Shetlands are particularly hardy and tough. They lamb with ease, are adaptable to all sorts of conditions, are used to a poor diet and live longer than the average breed. Because many of their natural survival instincts remain intact thanks to a lack of cross-breeding, they're hardier and easier to look after than most contemporary breeds.
A distinguishing feature of Shetlands is their short tail, fat at the base,tapered to a point and hairy rather than woolly. But it's the colour of their wool that's the most magical thing. It comes in many different colours and patterns, most with their own ancient names dating back millennia. Moorit wool, for example, is a rich, red-brown shade. Emsket wool is a dusky blue-grey, Musket wool is a pale grey-brown, Shaela a dark steel-grey and Mioget honey-coloured. There are many more, whose quirky names also come from the islands' ancient Norn language.
There are also 30 unique markings, which often appear in a combination. Katmoget, for example, means badgerface, a pattern involving a dark tummy and shading around the nose and eyes, with lighter wool elsewhere. And a Yuglet is a light coloured animal with dark rings around its eyes. Our favourite, though is Sokket, a fantastic name for sheep with white socks on its legs and obviously marking the origin of the modern word 'socks'.
The coarser wool from Shetlands is used to make Tweed, the softer wools for mullti-coloured knits in beautiful Fair Isle patterns, plus wonderfully soft knitted lace shawls. These shawls are so very fine and delicate that you can actually pass one through a wedding ring, just like a fairy tale.
In late 2011 the Shetland wool actually produced on the islands themselves was awarded protected geographical status with a protected designation of origin classification of Native Shetland Wool, the first non-food product to achieve the honour.
The history of textiles on the Shetland Isles
The Shetland isles are known and loved all over the world for their splendid textiles. They've been weaving and knitting the wool for man centuries. But it wasn't until the 1800s that the industry really took off, allowing women to play a valuable part in earning income for their families. The islanders soon responded by inventing all sorts of new products, and importing and adapting special tools from around the world. But one thing didn't change: the traditional ways of hand production and finishing.
A large and successful cottage industry sprang up in no time, knitwear being the most popular product. Plain knitting was perfect for socks and stockings, hats, winter underwear, thick traditional shawls called haps, scarves, mittens and gloves, and these formed the core of the industry.
Fair Isle knitwear is what the islands are best known for, originally worn by fishermen and later sold to tourists. Fine lace was once another, an expensive luxury including some of the most intricate garments you can imagine, as delicate as spider webs and patterned to perfection. Costly items like this were restricted to the rich, and the royal families and aristocracy of Britain and beyond into Europe couldn't get enough of them.
These days the industry carries on, but cheaper mass-produced alternatives have taken their toll and the islands' weaving industry has disappeared. Luckily today's knitters have formed groups to promote their unique craft, which is celebrated every year via a special Wool Week. This year the event runs from Saturday 23rd September to
Sunday 1 October 2017, a wonderful celebration for anyone with a passion for knitting and a respect for the ancient roots of the Shetland sheep.
Buy Shetland yarns from our own sheep and other local breeders
We sell superb Shetland yarns from our own sheep, and from our favourite local producers. If you'd like to knit yourself something sumptuous, luxurious and deliciously soft, it's perfect. Here's a link to our Shetland Wool page.
Knitting for victory - How knitting helped us win WW2
If you've ever heard a modern-day fighter plane roaring over your village, town or city at low altitude, you'll have a basic idea of how utterly terrifying it must be to live in a war zone, a place an enemy is hell bent on destroying. Multiply that incredibly loud and frightening roar and you get a little closer to what it must have been like for the British people during World War Two. No wonder they knitted. But knitting in WW2 was about much more than 'making do and mending'. Here's an insight into why our ancestors knitted their hearts out as Hitler's bombs rained down.
Unpicking and re-knitting
It's tricky to do with modern knits, often impossible. But back then you'd be able to unpick a jumper, tank top or cardi, roll the wool into a fresh ball and use it to knit another garment.
It's interesting how things have come a full circle. Back in the 1930s and 40s waste was not tolerated. Out little island was cut off by U-boats and warships, determined to sink vessels bringing in supplies and prevent exports of fighting men and the machinery of war. Clothing was strictly rationed, and a woolly jumper was a precious thing. Today, once again, we're realising the real worth of seemingly simple items, thinking about extending their lives or changing their purpose rather than just chucking them in the bin without a second thought.
Knitting for Victory
Knitting was a lot more than a hobby during wartime. It was patriotic, almost a duty. Literally millions of people across the UK, Europe and outwards into allied nations like Canada and Australia, knitted socks, mittens and more for the troops abroad. Back then, if you weren't fighting, knitting needles were your deadliest weapon. Men knitted, children knitted, the Royal Family knitted, everyone knitted.
Trench foot was a dreaded enemy in the trenches. It could result in limbs being amputated, or even death from infection. Dry socks were the answer, and the British public sent literally millions of hand-knitted pairs over the channel. We also knitted jumpers, special sea boot stockings, woollen vests, balaclavas, scarves, helmet caps and – distressingly - amputation covers to protect the stumps left behind. Many knitters wrote little notes to stuff into the socks and hats, to encourage the soldiers and cheer them on.
Servicewomen were also in need of warm gear. They wore hand-knitted hats, gloves, socks, jumpers, cardigans and even all-in-one knitted underwear.
Being bombed? Keep calm and carry on knitting
As you can imagine, it's pretty stressful being bombed and even more stressful waiting for your loved ones to come home from the front... or not. The alternative – a dreaded telegram from the War Office – didn't bear thinking about. So we also knitted to relieve the awful, constant, nagging anxiety of waiting for a letter from a loved one fighting abroad, to shut out the terror that they might not come home. Worries that the war might carry on for another year, another five years. And concerns over what would happen if the allies lost the fight and the Nazis took over.
Knitting as therapy
There's something about the rhythmic, calm click of the needles and the need to concentrate on a complicated pattern that distracts the mind from concerns and helps get them back into some kind of perspective. Many soldiers returned home to 'Blighty' with appalling physical and mental injuries. They were also taught to knit, as a form of simple yet effective therapy.
Secret codes – Knitting as espionage
At one point Britain's Office of Censorship banned people from posting knitting patterns abroad, worried the patterns may contain coded messages. It may sound odd but knitting was actually used by the Belgia resistance, who recruited teams of old ladies whose homes overlooked railway yards. The ladies let the allies know how many trains were coming and going by using very simple code, things like knit one for one kind of train, purl one for another, drop a stitch for yet another.
Here's a great example. As the Atlas Obscura website says:
"Phyllis Latour Doyle, secret agent for Britain during World War II, spent the war years sneaking information to the British using knitting as a cover. She parachuted into occupied Normandy in 1944 and rode stashed bicycles to troops, chatting with German soldiers under the pretence of being helpful—then, she would return to her knitting kit, in which she hid a silk yarn ready to be filled with secret knotted messages, which she would translate using Morse Code equipment."
And another example from the same source:
"British Secret Intelligence agents hired spies in occupied areas who would pose as ordinary citizens doing ordinary things, which sometimes included knitting. Madame Levengle was one such woman, who would sit in front of her window knitting, while tapping signals with her heels to her children in the room below."
Knitting - Enjoying a dramatic contemporary revival
Roll time forward to today and knitting clubs are held on the Brighton to London commuter train, enjoyed by work-frazzled people who want to chill out on the way home. Plenty of men are taking up knitting. The worldwide recycling/re-purposing revolution means we're wasting less, creating more. The world might change, but knitting remains the same – a sure-fire way to relax, express your creativity, and make something genuinely useful.
There's something about the rhythmic, calm click of the needles and the need to concentrate on a complicated pattern that distracts the mind from everyday concerns and helps you grab back some perspective. If you fancy getting into knitting, explore our knitting wool suppliers website to discover some of the most beautiful, inspirational yarns in the nation as well as fibre and felt, haberdashery, gifts and more.
Knit for Peace
I get daily requests from charity knitters and interns and as a small company it would be impossible to support all but who do I choose. It always makes me feel unhappy to turn people away. This year I have decided to support Knit for Peace a registered charity that matches knitters with good causers. Many keen knitters need outlets, so their distributions service is a much needed resource. Knitting is good for the knitter and their outputs keep vulnerable people warm. Therefore its a win win situation.
For advice on what to make and to download free patterns visit their website
You can send them all your left over yarn and they will find it a good home. You can also join them on Knit for Peace holidays in India and other interesting places. for instance this year they are going to Venice. These are all led by famous designers.
We're also popping a Knit for Peace bookmark in your order. It doubles up as a handy 8" ruler as well.
Knit For Peace is an organisation with a variety of charity campaigns, including knitting for premature babies, and raising funds for knitting shops affected by recent floods.
Knit For Peace began as an initiative which encouraged people from different, sometimes hostile, communities to come and knit together.
A representative from the charity said, "Based on our experience of developing Knit for Peace over the last few years, we have learned that knitting is extremely important as an activity that can be carried out right into extreme old age and helps improve long-term health."
There are several different projects and campaigns on the go [LINK: ]http://www.knitforpeace.org.uk/projects-and-patterns/], so you will have no problem finding a pattern to suit you! The organisation is currently taking donations of handknitted layettes for newborn babies, including those who are born premature.
The clothes are never sold, but are sent direct to wherever they are needed most, with tens of thousands of items delivered each year to refugee centres, homeless shelters and hospitals.