Knitting for Tommy – Lucinda Gosling

One of the things which public libraries excel at is “people’s history”. This is a good of the examples of this type of work: a short piece illustrated with contemporary magazine clippings.

Knitting for Tommy coverKnitting for Tommy is an interesting book on the knitting to support the war effort during World War One. There is some political context included: such as the ration of 3 pairs of socks for every 6 months being bought by the War Office (clearly insufficient), and the wool shortages which were highlighted (of course) by the wool industry. However a lot of the content is simple collation of clippings, advertisements, postcards etc. to illustrate that knitting took place, rather than any critical look at why the War Office couldn’t promote more commercially produced items, a process that would have been much more efficient using mechanical knitting that had popular since the 1590’s. The morale argument is presented, but not the converse, that more men being warm and dry with limited wool supplies may have been more helpful. It is also not made clear how much of the enthusiasm was purely due to advertising and encouragement by the wool companies rather than genuine need.

There is an interesting look at who knitted: from schoolchildren to the elderly and across all social classes. Men were also included, both at home and those in Prisoner of War camps. It was made clear that this was an accessible part of the war effort, which was contributed to despite natural talent or experience. A few patterns or “recipes” are included towards the end, to add to the body of evidence presented in terms of the types of garments and skill level required. Unsurprisingly the skills are basic, tips are included to make socks more hard-wearing or mittens that a solider could shoot a gun in, and the items are generally designed to be produced rapidly in hard-wearing wools. Whilst they are of historical interest, I am unlikely to decide to knit any soon with this year’s knitting already planned.

Knitting for Tommy would be a good secondary source of information for further research, and the author’s access to less widely available collections means this is an interesting peek at material that is not commonly available.

I have now also started off on a path looking at some more local history, so I am likely to raid those shelves next time I visit the library.


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