Canadian Red Cross Knitting During World War II

Recently, the Museum I work at received a donation of materials from a local Canadian Red Cross Branch. The first thing I asked was whether there was anything knitting related. To my delight, YES. Included in the donation were four pamphlets created by the Red Cross:

  • The Canadian Red Cross Society Selected Civilian Knitting Instructions for Women and Children (Compliments of The Yellow Pages of your Telephone Directory)
  • The Canadian Red Cross Society Knitting Instructions for the Armed Forces (Compliments of The Yellow Pages of your Telephone Directory)
  • Red Cross Knitting Instructions for War Work, Number 1 For the Services, Issued by The Canadian Red Cross Society, Revised Edition, November 1940
  • Red Cross Knitting Instructions for War Work, Number 2 Knitted Comforts for Women, Issued by The Canadian Red Cross Society, November 1940

After carefully looking through the pamphlets, and after our Registrar scanned them all so I could look at the digital versions, the next thing I wanted to do was learn a little more about them and about the Red Cross and knitting in general.

From the archival collection of the Oshawa Museum

I turned to the Toronto based newspaper, The Globe and Mail, to see what might have been reported on at the time. One thing that surprised me the most was how often it was reported that items were having to be fixed or reknit completely by Red Cross volunteers.

It was estimated that some 750,000 people on the homefront (the majority of which were likely women) produced more than 50 million garments during the Second World War.1 There were likely knitters of every skill level pitching in to do their bit.

Pieces were quality controlled, and in Toronto, they passed through the Red Cross offices on Jarvis Street. One volunteer, Mrs. Gibbett, was interviewed about the work of re-knitting items, and about socks, she commented “I hate to think of the poor boy’s feet after wearing a pair of those [socks with knots along the bottom under the heel and toes]. I rip them back and knit it up again.” Her job was described as ‘Unexciting,’ and even Mrs. Gibbett herself said “It’s not a very attractive job, but it’s got to be done. We can’t let all that wool go to waste, you know.”2

The Red Cross often made materials available for volunteer knitters – they would send out wool and the knitters would send the finished items back. The quality control job was one I hadn’t thought about, but it’s importance was great. Not only did it mean materials were not wasted, but it helped ensure that what was being sent was top quality – it would fit and not lead to potential injuries (like with knotted sock bottoms). Those who looked after the quality control were working throughout the war, and I’m sure many a feet were thankful they were.


  1. That stat came from the Canadian War Museum: https://www.warmuseum.ca/blog/an-army-of-knitters-in-support-of-the-war-effort/
  2. “Reknits Others’ Knitting, Woman’s Job Is Unexciting,” The Globe and Mail, Aug 1, 1944, pg. 10.

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