Knitting in Wartime - A Study Day Retrospect

Last week I had the pleasure of attending another of Knitting in the Round's Public Study Days: The Kitchener Stitch: Knitting in Wartime - Wartime Knitting. The whole day was a delight with many friendly faces in the audience and some cracking speakers. Dr Jane Tynan gave an absolutely fascinating talk on military uniforms, modernity and knitting as craftivism during the First World War. Dr Tynan is an expert on military uniforms and her research on 'khaki' in WW1 led her to discover how knitting served as supplement to official wartime military issue and how this led to unexpected tensions at home between the War Office and women who volunteered their time and skills. I was particularly interested in how conservative gender roles were promoted (this in an age of Suffragettes, lest we forget) and female activist efforts were soon turned into an achievement of the War Office. However, I was mostly enthused by Dr Tynan's work on the disembodiment found throughout knitting patterns and wartime propaganda. I have been interested in modernity, modernism and the Body for many years and it was exciting to see certain recurrent (and familiar) themes pop up in an unexpected context.

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The other speakers were absolutely excellent too - Wendy Turner on the importance of Glasgow Women's Library; the irrepressible Joyce Meader with her extensive collection of war-related knitting patterns, knitting paraphernalia, and her knitted 'comforts' from vintage patterns; Professor Maggie Andrews on the WI, domesticity and knitting as war effort; and Barbara Smith on items found in the Knitting and Crochet Guild's archives (including one of my favourite pieces: warships depicted in filet crochet for a table cloth). I was particularly excited about Barbara speaking as I really enjoy reading her knitting history blog.

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I was fortunate enough to spend my lunchtimeΒ  together with Barbara (and we discovered we have friends in common), the ever-lovely Susan Crawford and my partner David. We sat outside in the sunshine discussing many of the issues the morning had uncovered - particularly knitting as a gendered pursuit and the politicising of knitting during the World Wars. It was absolutely lovely to discuss these things with smart, engaged people who all brought different perspectives to the table. While Dave does not knit (and has no interest in starting!), he does have a life-long interest in textiles and how war affects the production & design of textiles. I really enjoyed having him join me at the event - he also took the majority of these photographs!

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After the Study Day concluded, I spent a very happy evening with Susan and Dave. First we went vintage shopping (word of warning: Susan WILL put you in various 1950s frocks), then had a very relaxing meal during which we talked about everything between heaven and earth. What an enjoyable day meeting so many fantastic people, thinking about knitting in new & unexpected ways, and then spending time with good folks.

A huge thank you to everyone involved in putting this event together.