The Charitable Knitter

Being a knitter means you are a creator. You can take a piece of string, and using two sticks create something out of seemingly nothing. A few more sticks, string, and a number of hours, and you have a hat or a pair of socks. Two sticks, string, and time, and bam, you have a scarf, or perhaps the start of a sweater.

Due to the nature of the ‘string’ typically used, more often than not, the ‘things’ being created are rather warm. Wool is warm and keeps its warmth. Wool is both water repellent and water absorbent, meaning it does well on a rainy, damp day.

People create for many reasons – they want something for themselves, or perhaps they are creating for others and giving them away.

During the World War years, 1914-1918 and again in the early 1940s, there was a push in Canada and beyond to knit items to be worn by soldiers on the battlefields. War propaganda posters from the American Red Cross reminded those on the homefront that “You Can Help” by knitting, and the Canadian Red Cross issued booklets, containing patterns one could knit for the troops. An interesting artefact in the collection of the Canadian War Museum is a skein of yarn and corresponding pattern, “DUNKIRK Super Scotch” yarn, made by Newlands & Co. Ltd., a Galt, ON based company. On the label, they boast, “SUFFICIENT YARN FOR ONE PAIR OF SERVICE SOCKS.”

Directions for Making Socks, as appeared in the Ontario Reformer, Friday Sept 3, 1915, p5

My own hometown newspaper published a sock knitting pattern in 1915, and in other editions boasted about the accomplishments of the 116th Knitting Society, a charitable group formed to knit for the troops. Interestingly, the toe of the sock is not one that is grafted, rather, you decrease until a certain amount of stitches remain, and then you pull the yarn through the sock, closing the toe. One could imagine this would not be the most comfortable to wear, and this is where the legend starts of Lord Kitchener espousing the greatness of the grafting technique that now shares his name, the Kitchener stitch which is commonly used to finish of top-down socks.

The push for wartime knitting was seen again when the world went to war in 1939. Again, those on the homefront, largely women, were asked to turn to their knitting and make items for those fighting overseas.

In the 1930s, there was a call for knitters made Toronto’s The Globe newspaper, seeking out knitting for those who were facing hard times due to the Great Depression. The sock I recently made from a 1939 pattern likely came from this charitable push as the pattern was published before any calls to war were made.

In modern times, the call for charitable knitting is always present, in some form or another. Many local hospitals will accept hats for newborn or premature babies. There is an initiative in my hometown that also deserves mention. The AIDS Committee of Durham Region here in Ontario participates in the Red Scarf Project. According to redscarfoshawa.ca:

The Red Scarf Project began in 2012, and was organized by the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection, an AIDS Service organization based out of London, Ontario. The Project began as an awareness campaign, aimed at generating community dialogue around HIV during AIDS Awareness Week which takes place during the last week of November annually.

Every year, fibre people are encouraged to grab red yarn and make a scarf, the only stipulations are that they are red and at least 6″ wide and 60″ long. I made a scarf a few years back for the project and got my needles working again in late 2020. To my great disappointment, I did not make the cutoff date, and the scarf is still on my needles. I’m going to keep working on it, and once it’s finished, I’ll tuck it aside for the 2021 year.

Not only are the scarves placed around the city, becoming a visual commemoration, but little cards are attached to them, encouraging those who might need a scarf to take it with them. Creating awareness, fostering dialogue, and giving to those in need – win/win/win.