A History Lesson Comes to the Buffalo Knitting Guild

Each month brings a speaker to The Knitting Guild of Greater Buffalo.  This year, as in the past, the invited speaker presents a topic different from the former, all under the umbrella of knitting, causing each month to be diverse and interesting.  And, as usual, the month of November was no different.  Mary Ann Colopy is a local historian and was invited as a returning speaker, as she was so enjoyed last year.  The title of her talk was Knitting For My Country.

We were quick to learn that her talk focused around the WWI times.  So, as listeners, we journeyed back to hear the purpose of knitting, who was involved, and expectations that were placed on people, both adult and child to support the boys during WWI.  One avenue of expectation came through knitting.

Involvement of our country in WWI may have been short, however participation and support was deep.  As Mary Ann explained, that expectation of participation was spread throughout the country in the form of propaganda.  Propaganda for adults, as well as propaganda for children was seen everywhere.

Red Cross relief and nursing were, of course a means of support and possibly when it was learned that knitting was needed.  And, what was needed to be knitted.  Socks. Socks. Socks.  Socks of all sizes and kinds were knitted especially at the onset of a condition known as “trench-foot,” a misfortune that occurred due to the trench-like warfare of the era.  Heel-less socks were knitted for sleeping, songs were written about knitting socks; knitting socks even became the topic of plays.

Yes, songs.

Mary Ann not only showed us the songs, she brought the audio so we could hear them.

What could the children knit as it was their expectation, as well to knit to support the cause?  Surgical sponges and surgical bandages, if you can imagine as the knitted fabric could be washed and reused over, again.  Also, squares for afghans.  Children learned quickly and young to support the war and the boys any way they could.

How were the women and children encouraged and driven to act on behalf of the cause?  The answer, propaganda.   Mary Ann explained the nature of this propaganda as a way to get people emotionally charged.   Such slogans as, “Knit for Democracy” for the adults and “Do Your Bit” directed towards the children were everywhere.  Even in local publications as seen here.

 22 million garments were knitted by 2 million knitters.  Calculated inclusively, 230 years of labor.  Over 3.5 million pairs of socks, alone.  We were captivated by these numbers.

If you look carefully at the patterns of yesteryear, you can see how designers of today have ‘borrowed’ for today’s looks.  Don’t we know wristlets as fingerless gloves,  knitted scarves and chest protectors as hoodies, ponchos, capelets, capes, and vests (to name a few)?

Mary Ann gave us [THIS SITE] as an addition to our library for those interested in antique patterns.  We now have this link on our Resource Page, as well.

We graciously thank Mary Ann for coming to The Knitting Guild of Greater Buffalo’s November meeting and presenting to us her newly developed program.  This great sharing of our countries’ past could not have come at a better time as Nationalism and Democracy are at the forefront of the news with leadership transition.

As we are most appreciative of Mary Ann, there was another aspect of our November program that we will be talking about in next week’s blog post, the official start of this year’s KAL.

Our great audience

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