Last June I contributed a blog on WWI knitting propaganda to the Center for Knit and Crochet. In that article I described how WWI knitting propaganda successfully solicited support from people within our homeland to make and contribute knitted items needed for the war effort and for comfort of wounded and displaced people. Just 20 years after the conclusion of the Great War, relief groups reinstituted the lessons they learned in using propaganda to mobilize knitters.
Much was learned from the Great War’s knitting program including lessons about supply. Although not propaganda, but important for the knitting campaign, during the early days of the war in Europe, while the U.S. was still neutral, our government engaged in a carefully orchestrated war preparation done in a manner so as not to alarm homeland pacifists or future enemies. Britain had expressed concern that their wool reserves might be overrun by Germany and discretely asked the U.S. to store the entire 1940 Australian wool clip, a critical war material. The U.S. would be permitted to use the clip, but would provide it back to England, if she needed it. Although knitters were still encouraged to conserve wool, this agreement prevented wool shortages from developing during WWII, like those that had occurred during WWI.
Similar to what happened in WWI, before the U.S. became involved in WWII, numerous relief organizations for various nationalities sprung up, soliciting knitted goods for their fighting men, refugees, and wounded. The biggest of these organizations was Bundles for Britain, which was spurred by a plea from Clementine Churchill to Eleanor Roosevelt. Eleanor Roosevelt became the most visible proponent of wartime knitting, carried her large knitting bag almost everywhere, and was nick-named “knitter-in-chief”. Major stores sponsored knitting bees for relief organizations of all types. Most relief organizations sold at least badges. Bundles for Britain was particularly prolific in developing items for sale to advertise their mission and bring in revenue. Besides publishing knitting patterns and fliers, they produced sheet music (some like “Pick Up Your Knitting“ encouraged knitting), knitting bags and gauges, badges/brooches, “Kittens for Britain” and “Barkers for Britain” cat/dog tags, dinner plates, tape measures….
In preparation for possible war, during 1940 through 1941, many reserve army units, particularly in the South, participated in the “Louisiana Maneuvers’. U.S. knitters started knitting for our reserve units then. The American Red Cross (ARC) was involved with providing “comforts” for foreign relief and U.S. reserve unit maneuvers. The ARC’s publishing of knitting patterns became more organized with numbered (including revision numbers) and dated patterns on individual fliers.
Right after Pearl Harbor, Bundles for Bluejackets formed, mobilized, organized, and distributed knitting patterns for the Navy. Shortly after that they changed their name to Bundles for America, covering all U.S. military, but retained a Bundles for Bluejackets division that still focused on the Navy.
Similar to WWI, the ARC, the Navy League, and Bundles for America advertised, published and distributed patterns, and helped with the acquisition of supplies necessary to knit contributions, accepted other relief organizations’ contributions, provided quality control, and distributed knitted items to those who needed them most.
Elaborate red/white/blue knitting kits were sold as well as knitting bags with patriotic motifs. In addition to relief organization logos, knitting bags sported military insignia, service stars, and victory motifs.
Again, as in WWI, knitters became popular fare for journalists/photographers, especially celebrities, elderly, youngsters, and prolific knitters. Again contests were run for the most prolific knitters with prizes like a sterling knitting needle bent to encircle the wrist becoming a bangle-bracelet.
During WWII posters, sheet music (for a list of WWII knitting sheet music, plus graphics and some lyrics see http://www.threadwinder.info/pubs/hist/sheetmusic/WWII.htm) , comics, and booklet/magazine images depicting and lauding knitters remained popular although postcards, poetry and plays became less popular. At least one movie featured wartime knitters, most notably: “Mr. Lucky” 1943 with Cary Grant attempting to learn to knit. One of my favorite songs from the era is “The Pretty Little Mitt that Kitty Knit,” which starts out “We’ve been hearing a lot of propaganda…” and continues “She started a sock…she couldn’t make the curve…sent it to the soldiers, But they found that they had nothing it would fit, Stuff’d it down a blink-in’ gun, shot it over to the Hun…Then the Nazi agents sent it to Der Fuerher…he nearly threw a fit For he tho’t there was a trap Or a secret code or a map in The Pretty Little Mitt That Kitty Knit…”
Additionally there were sewing patterns produced by all major pattern companies not only for knitting bags and knitting needle holders; but for ARC uniforms, victory dresses, and victory aprons that one could proudly wear to knitting parties. And there were crochet patterns for brooches featuring miniature Navy hats complete with miniature knitting needles which were sold by Susan Bates through McCall Needlework magazine, specifically for the purpose of making patriotic brooches. In the photo gallery above I am pictured wearing my WWII-era hat topped with stubby red and blue knitting needles. It an example of an item one could buy to proclaim their dedication to knitting for the cause.
As in WWI, during WWII propaganda was extremely effective. Once again knitting was a patriotic obsession, resulting in the creation of many thousands of needed items for the military, wounded, and refugees. As evidenced by the snapshot montage of soldiers at Oahu, HI, the soldiers were indeed happy to receive these items. In fact, the soldier who sent these photos home wrote on the back “It was a happy day.” However after the war, knitters having done their duty, quickly abandoned knitting in drab colors and adopted the craze for knitting Argyles.
By Karen C.K. Ballard, Guest Blogger
—. American Red Cross Patterns (Washington D.C. 1940-1945).
—. McCall Needlework Magazine, pgs 58 & 159. (The McCall Corporation, NY, NY; Winter 1941-42) [Miniature officer’s & gob’s hat brooches using Susan Bates miniature knitting needles, sold through McCall’s.]
Heggie, Barbara, “Now it’s Bundles for Bluejackets,” Coronet Magazine, pgs 150-154 (David A. Smart, Chicago, IL; March 1942).
Macdonald, Anne L. No Idle Hands (New York: Ballantine Books, 1988).
Maines, Rachael Pearl, Textiles for Defense Emergency Policy for Textiles and Apparel in the Twentieth Century (Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms International, 1983) [Doctorial thesis, about policies and shortages – dry reading, many statistics, but very informative.]
Laboissonniere, Wade, Blueprints of Fashion Home Sewing Patterns of the 1940s (Schiffer Publishing Ltd., Atglen, PA, 1997).
“I’m Knitting a Singlet for Cecil.” Words & music: R.M. McLeish, Cinephone Music Co., Ltd., London, UK & D. Davis Co. Pty. Ltd., Sydney, Australia, 1938.
“Knit One Purl Two.” Composer: Dick Jurgens, writers: Ronnie Kemper, Dick Jurgens & Al Lewis, Miller Music, NY, 1940.
“Knit One Purl Two.” Words & music: Flossy Frills & Ben Lorre, edited by: Glenn Miller, Music Products, Inc., NY, 1942.
“Knitting.” Words & music: Harry Taylor, Featured by ‘Tiny’ Douglas & his Band, Francis, Day & Hunter, Ltd., Sydney, Australia, 1940.
“Pick Up Your Knitting: The Bundles for Britain Song.” D. Dudley Brill & Norman R. Finch, cover artist: Bradshaw Crandel, Mills Music Inc., NY, 1941.
“The Pretty Little Mitt That Kitty Knit.” Words & music: Jimmy Coulter, Jimmy Coulter, Hamilton, Canada, 1940.
“Since Kitten’s Knittin’ Mittens (for the Army).” Words: Jack Meskill, music: Ernie Burnett, Shapiro Bernstein & Co., Inc. Pub, NY, 1941.
“Stick to your Knittin’ Kitten.” Lyric: Wanda Faulknere, music: Vic Mizzy; Santly-Joy Inc., NYC, 1942 & 1943.
“Tend to Your Knitting.” Words & music: Bernie Bierman & Jack Manus, Colonial Music Pub. Co., NYC, 1944.
The photographs in the slideshow depict numerous vintage items from the author’s own collection including snapshots, knitting books, knitting bags, knitting tools, badges/broaches, sheet music, etc.