This post is pre-fab. I am currently out of the country and probably not checking my blog, but I promise to share vacation details once I’m home!
Regular readers know that my husband is in the military. Several other members of my family are as well, so I’ve always had a bit of an interest in the history of the military, if not in military history (yes, there is a difference). While searching for care package ideas during Hubby’s last deployment I stumbled across quite a few stories of servicemen learning to knit to pass the time while deployed, or occasionally as a form of physical therapy.
People made such a fuss about how surprising it was to see soldiers knitting that it got me thinking about the history of knitting in the military. I know sailors used to knit; why not warriors? Sure enough, there is a long history of not just the women at home knitting for servicemen, but the men on the front lines knitting their own as well.
Crusading knights return to Europe with a multitude of new things, including the first knitted goods the Western world had seen. It is thought that they may also have brought back the knowledge of knitting as a skill. While many think Spanish conquistadors spread knitting to the Americas, there is evidence that it was already there in the Andes as early as 1100 B.C.E.
While there was no shortage of wars during the Renaissance, and knitters were almost exclusively male, knitting was strictly controlled by the guilds. As merchants rarely became soldiers and vice versa, it is unlikely many warriors knit during this period.
James Thomas Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan (of the famous “Charge of the Light Brigade”) wore a unique knitted sweater into battle which became an instant hit in the fashion world. The same battle also popularized the use of balaclavas to keep British soldiers warm.
World War I
The heyday of knitting by and for soldiers. In Britain, Lord Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl of Kitchener, devised a method of grafting sock toes which did not irritate his soldiers’ feet. More on this in a future post. Meanwhile, physicians at Camp Dix (in New Jersey) declared that knitting was beneficial to men as a “mental stimulus” and Americans set to work teaching their soldiers to knit. Soon after, someone had the brilliant idea to use knitting as occupational therapy as well. Combine this with the efforts to encourage all civilians, including small children, to knit for the war effort, and pretty near everyone was knitting.