The Usefulness of a Knitting Bag

All knitters have them, in fact, you may have several on the go for different purposes. Knitting bags. My go-to knitting bag has been my favourite for years, and it’s usually brimming with projects in varying stages of completeness, my pencil case with DPNs, ruler, pencils, and cable needles, and a few containers with stitch markers. My favourite knitting bag is complete with a little bit of flair (buttons and patches) and is brandished with the phrase ‘I Knit So I Won’t Kill People.’ A hyperbole, obviously.

I love my knitting bag(s) and can’t imagine not having at least one bag ready to grab at any moment. Naturally, when reading historic articles in the Globe newspaper, a Toronto based publication, an article titled ‘Knitting Bag Useful’ caught my eye. Of course it’s useful! Was that ever really in question?

The article, from August 16, 1918, reads as follows:

The knitting bag is being made to serve another purpose in many cities. Being generally very commodious it can be utilized on shopping expeditions. It is surprising how many small parcels can be tucked away in it and absolutely hidden from view. Now that war-time economy necessitates the curtailing of deliveries and the shopper is compelled to carry home many a parcel, it is well to remember that a very safe, attractive and roomy receptacle is the knitting bag.

The Globe, 16 Aug 1918, page 8

Roomy? Pardon me, but I must direct your attention to my bursting at the seams bag. Once a sweater or two, plus socks and a shawl for good measure, are thrown unceremoniously into the bag, it’s rather limited in real estate after that.

It is, however, an interesting commentary of the time. World War I was nearing its conclusion, but this was a society impacted by the conflict, evidenced by the limited deliveries being mentioned. The knitting bag is being remarked upon as being ‘fashionable’ (and, I’m SURE the anonymous author in 1918 would have adored my bag with questionable phrasing). It’s also interesting that the author emphasizes a need for discretion with parcels being purchased. Certainly, a bag slung over the shoulder could make carrying a number of parcels easier, but my ease is the factor for me, not discretion. And many women in 1918 would have been knitters, and even if knitting wasn’t a regular hobby, those on the homefront were encouraged to support the troops with knitting items to be sent overseas. It was likely that many women would have had this accessory at the ready.

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.

Another Historic Sock

A few years ago, I knit a sock (and just a sock, never getting around to making its mate) using a pattern from 1915. World War I was raging over in Europe, and a newspaper in Oshawa, Ontario published a pattern for a pair of socks. The lingo changed quite a bit in around 100 years, and when I decided to tackle the sock, I was rather inexperienced, but it was a fun challenge.

While looking through the archive of the Globe and Mail, I came across another sock pattern, published in January 1939. World War II had yet to start, but there was quite a bit of charitable knitting taking place because of the Great Depression, and there appeared to be a regular column dedicated to articles of women’s interest. This sock pattern fit in well with other articles that were typically published within.

I pulled my dad’s name for Secret Santa this year, and he is certainly knit worthy. I used this pattern to make him a pair of socks, and, all in all, the pattern was straight forward, with a few unique elements.

Now, I read up on copyright in Canada before settling in to write this blog post. As there doesn’t seem to be a direct author of this pattern, I’m operating under the assumption that this article has fallen into the public domain as it was published over 80 years ago. If it was still under copyright, I would have hesitated in writing it out and sharing it here. Gotta follow the rules, folks.

At the beginning of the article, it is noted that they had received several ‘formulas for the knitting of socks’ and the following was sent by a ‘very expert knitter.’

Materials needed were four ounces of 4-ply Scotch fingering, and four needles, size 14 (English gauge).

Size 14 appears to be 2mm, or 0 US. I used 2.5mm, and I ended up using a little more than 4oz, or the 100g ball for the socks. Perhaps my larger needle size accounts for using more yarn? I was able to finish the toe of one sock with nearly identical grey yarn from another skein! Thank goodness for a large supply of sock yarn scraps!

The pattern continues:

Cast on 73 stitches on one needle, now knit off 24, on each of three needles (72 stitches in all); the last stitch left slip onto the first needle. Join by knitting this stitch and the first stitch together. By doing this the join is not shown and it gives more spring to the top. Knit in rib 2 plain, 2 purl for 3 inches, then knit plain the desired length required to heel.

Straight forward – Cast on for 72 stitches, however you like to join in the round; Cuff is k2, p2 for 3 inches, and knit plain stockinette until you’ve reached the desired length of the leg.

Next is the heel.

Divide the stitches onto two needles, 36 on each. On the back or heel needle (be guided by the piece of casting on wool left, and keep this for the back of the sock), knit one row plain. Come back purl on the 36 stitches of the heel needle till there are 24 rows…

These directions are telling the knitter to make a 24 row, plain stockinette heel. I opted for my usual eye of partridge heel because I like the look of it better, and I’ve heard eye of partridge is better for lasting heel wear.

Now, here’s where it gets spicy.

…then knit 15 stitches. Knit two together, knit two, knit two together, knit 15. Turn, come back purl without any decreasing, then knit 14, knit two together, knit two, knit two together, knit 14; then come back purl, no decreasings. Knit 13, knit two together, knit 2, knit two together, knit 13. Come back purl, no decreasings; then knit 12, knit two together, knit 2, knit two together. Now turn (leaving the other 12 stitches on the needle), purl back 4 stitches (be careful to slip the first stitch each time at this part of the heel; this is done so that there will not be any hard knot underneath the heel, as would be the case if the first stitch was knitted), purl 2 together; turn, knit 5 stitches, knit 2 together; turn, purl 6, purl 2 together; turn, knit 7, knit 2 together; turn, purl 8, purl 2 together. Go on in this way, knitting one more each time till all stitches are knitted off from both ends of the needle. There should be 16 stitches left on needle.

Did I loose anyone? A bit confusing and difficult to keep track of, I admit. Basically, after you knit your flap, you do a series of centre decreases which starts rounding the flap before you start the typical short rows for the heel turn.

The centre decreases were confusing to me when I first read through what they wanted, but it made the heel look like this:

You can see the texture of the eye of partridge, then it sort of rounds before the turn. An interesting construction to say the least.

I changed up the heel decreases slightly when I made my socks. For the centre decreases, I worked the number of stitches, then I worked k2tog, k2, ssk, then worked the rest of the stitches. Also, for the short rows, I p2tog on the wrong side, and I ssk on the right side.

Once you’ve finished the heel turn, you’re ready to start the instep.

Break off wool.
Now pick up and knit stitches on the right hand side of heel first (if this is done the picked up stitches to not show large holes, as is the case if stitches are picked up on needle first then knitted) and knit 8 of the 18 left on heel on same needle.
Knit the other 8 on a second needle and pick up stitches with the same needle on the left side of the heel, doing it the same way as the right side. There should be 17 stitches picked up on each side of heel.

So, again, I feel like I read these instructions, and the pattern lost me. I reverted to how I normally approach starting the foot. I had my 16 heel stitches; without breaking the yarn, I picked up 17 stitches along the side of the heel flap, knit across the 36 instep stitches, and then picked up 17 stitches along the other side of the heel flap.

I think they directed to break off the yarn so that you can pick up the right side of the heel flap first, but that seemed silly to me and would have resulted in extra ends to weave in. No thanks.

To recap, knit across heel stitches, picked up from one side of heel flap, knit instep, picked up from other side of heel flap. Grand total of 86 stitches, and ready to start gusset decreases.

Now continue knitting plain the stitches on front needle. Knit three rounds plain. Then commence on the first heel needle, knit 2, knit 2 together, knit to last 4 stitches of second heel needle. Knit 2 together, knit 2, knit front needle plain without any decreasings. Knit 2 rounds plain without decreasings, then commence again on first heel needle, knit 2, knit 2 together, knit to last four stitches of second heel needle. Knit 2 together, knit 2 knit front needle plain, no decreasings; knit 2 rounds, no decreasings; then decrease in same way, doing 2 rounds without decreasing after each decreased round till 36 stitches left on back needles (18 on each) and 36 in front (72 in all).

Whew. So, I counted my first pick up round as the first of the “three rounds plain.” I worked my first gusset decrease on round 4, and knit 5 & 6 plain, and I continued like this until I was back to my 72 stitches. Also, I varied from the pattern in that I worked k2tog, k2 before the instep, knit the instep, then k2, ssk. I wanted the decreases to be right leaning and left leaning for a cleaner looking gusset.

Knit round plain, till length of foot required (usually 6 1/2 inches to 8 inches from heel, three inches allowed for toe, which gives a foot 9 1/2 inches to 11 inches).

My dad has big feet, size 11 I believe, which works out to be just shy of 11 inches. Previous socks I’ve made give lengths from the gusset, but this one was giving you the length including the rounded heel. I texted a friend for help on how to best measure. She advised to measure from, and I quote “the actual heel ‘apex’ if you will.” She said to fold the sock at the heel and measure that way, “like leg over foot in half.” Or, like this:

Cool? Cool.

Toe: Now start toe of sock. Commencing on first heel or back needle, knit 2, knit 2 together, knit plain till the last 4 stitches of second heel needle. Knit 2 together, knit 2. Front needle, knit 2, knit 2 together, knit plain till last 4 stitches of same needle; knit 2 together, knit 2. knit 2 rounds plain, no decreasings; then decrease in same way, starting on first heel needle and knit 2 rounds plain without decreasings till 40 stitches left (10 on each back needle and 20 on front), then instead of knitting 2 rounds in between decreasings knit one round and go on in the same way till 5 stitches left on each back needle and 10 on front (20 in all), cast off by knitting or drawing wool through stitches with a darning needle, being careful not to make it lumpy.

I started my decreases on the instep rather than the heel, but I feel like that’s a tomatoes/toMAHtoes kind of distinction. I started the decreases with a ssk, not a k2tog because, like before, I wanted the decreases to appear left leaning. I decreased to 24 stitches total, not 20, and the BIG difference I made was that I Kitchenered the toe and didn’t simply draw the yarn through the stitches. Certainly, the Kitchener Stitch was a thing in the late 1930s, but perhaps it wasn’t as much of a staple as it is today. I wouldn’t think of finishing a top down sock any other way than to Kitchener the toe.

All in all, this was a simple, straight forward sock, with only a few pattern challenges that really got me thinking. The heel shaping was certainly different than I’m used to, and the instructions for picking up along the heel flap left a little to be desired. And, apparently, I’m a big fan of ssk when warranted!

Perhaps the thing I found most jarring was the formatting – this is a pattern written essentially as a run-on in a newspaper column. Being super visual, I found this a little hard to follow – I wanted more pronounced breaks between sock sections, I wanted the heel shaping section to be written out with every row being clearly marked, and, for me, it would have made reading the pattern simpler. I print patterns and glue them into notebooks, my own take on a smash book, and I was able to mark up where I wanted the ssks to be, and on the opposite page, I wrote out decrease rows in a way that was clearer for me to follow.

Ultimately, the socks themselves looked GREAT, and my dad was thrilled with his new socks. Can’t ask for much more than that.

Has it ever not been ‘en vogue’

I’ve been having fun browsing historical newspapers, looking for content inspiration for my posts. Being a huge history nerd, the idea of reading through decades old newspapers always has an appeal; adding my addiction to fondness of knitting to the research just makes the inner nerd burst with glee.

It seems like every few years or so, at least once a decade, there appears an article talking about how ‘Knitting is hip again,’ or the resurgence in knitting, but can knitting really be going through a renaissance if always seems to be resurging?’

Many of these articles, especially ones from the last 20 years or so, suggest shrugging aside the idea that it’s largely little old women who are sitting around clicking their knitting needles. No, these articles boast! Often, the first sentence of the articles are something like: “Knitting isn’t just for grandmas anymore!” Rather giggle-worthy reading article after article beginning in exactly the same way.

Perhaps those ‘in the know,’ the knitters who spend their time in local yarn shops and their dollars there as well, are the ones who don’t need telling that knitting is cool. We already were in on the secret. We browse knitting forums, participate in chatter on social media, we might even blog about it. While a ‘Capital K’ Knitter won’t need to read all about how knitting is trendy, but it makes for a fun article. Knitters and yarn shop owners are often featured in these articles, bringing publicity to small businesses. Perhaps, if someone was intrigued by the idea of knitting, these articles promoting how cool it is makes it more mainstream and helping to dispel the ‘little old lady’ stereotypes.

I’m not disparaging these articles, but rather, I found it funny that these articles seem to crop back up every so often, something one might not notice unless they’re stumbling across these articles one after another with a historical newspaper search. What a nerd.

Ruler Knitting Bags

As you can probably tell from how long it’s been since my last post (the exception being the photo I posted a few days ago of finished socks), my inspiration for this blog has been feeling a little shot. I’m still knitting away, because, well, there’s a pandemic and what else am I to be doing with my spare time? But the thought of sitting and writing about what I’m working on just hasn’t really grabbed me. It feels like a show and tell that I really don’t want to write about. Please don’t get me wrong – the show and tell posts are AWESOME, but personally, I just haven’t had the oomph to sit and write it.

So, instead, to try and kick start my inspiration for posts and content, I turned to the archive of the Globe and Mail. First started as The Globe in 1844, it isn’t Canada’s oldest continuing newspaper, but it’s certainly up there. I’ve always enjoyed writing any of the posts that deal with history, and far and away they are my best performing posts on this site. My goodness, did my stats ever explode in December 2019 after the Little Women movie showcased fashionable historic knits! But I digress. I turned to the Globe’s online database to see if any articles would grab my interest.

Enter the Knitter’s Ruler Bag from 1942. The Second World War was well underway at this time, and many articles talk about knitting efforts for the soldiers. The Globe and Mail gave instructions on how to make your own knitting bags which, they boasted, “are not only the last inch in smartness, they are convenient for measuring the progress of a garment, and can easily made at home.” Being honest though, to this novice sewer, their instructions sound rather complicated and not as easy as they claim!

The bag is made of “bright floral fabric which can be used for both the outside and the lining.” Cool. Easy enough. Fabric. Floral. Bright. Following along so far.

“Then get twin rulers to use as the frame.” Ok. With you in theory. “Evenly spaced holes should be drilled through the bottoms of both rulers and bright red cord threaded through these holes to sew the rulers to the bag.” This is where I’m lost. Sew them where? The bottom? Along a side? At the top? I don’t think they mean along the sides, because otherwise, you would need four rulers, two for each side, right? And how many holes? Sure, I know what evenly spaced means, but, more context please!

The instructions finish up as follows:

A button at one side of the bag with a looped cord coming over the top from the other side will close the bag securely. Bore more holes at the top ends of the rulers to which bright heavily-corded handles can be attached.

Wait a minute now. ‘Top ends of the rulers?’ Now I’m thinking that there needs to be a ruler along each side and not sandwiched together at the bottom like I was originally envisioning… Because if you’re attaching the handles to the rulers, they need to be by the top. That is how bags work, right?

It would have been helpful to have a picture of the Ruler Knitting Bag accompanying this set of instructions, but alas, there was no such picture included. If I’m able to borrow my mother’s sewing machine and get ahold of some ‘bright floral fabric,’ I might just try my hand at making my own interpretation of this knitting bag, because, ultimately, they were right in saying how convenient it would be to have rulers handy for measuring your knitting as you go along!

The instructions for the Ruler Knitting Bag were published in The Globe and Mail, 2 Oct 1942, page 11.