Red Cross Society World War I Sock

I love finding knitting references in old newspapers.

Back up. I love reading through digitized newspapers. When I find knitting references, it makes it even better.

Port Perry, Ontario is a small town on the shores of Lake Scugog, and it is located north of my hometown. The local historical society recently digitized and made their historical newspapers available online, and the search term ‘knit’ wielded a whole slew of interesting search results.

The following appeared in the Port Perry Star, 7 June 1916, on page 1.

Directions from Red Cross Society for the use of cotton in the knitting of soldier’s socks:

“Official instructions for knitting socks in the mixed cotton warp and woollen yarn:

“Materials required; No. 13 needle 4-ply Scotch Fingering (grey), about four ounces; four-eighths grey cotton warp, 3 ply; cast on 64 stitches (cotton warp). Rib for one inch (two and two if possible).

“Break off cotton and knit woollen yarn for 1 ½ inches (this is to make the cuff elastic; join the cotton again and rib for 1 ½ inches; knit cotton warp plain for 4 ½ inches; break off cotton and start knitting plain again with wool, and continue for 3 ½ inch, which will finish the leg; finish the ankle and foot in wool in the usual manner.”

With this mixing of yarn, one lb of wool is sufficient for eight socks, and one pound of cotton for 16 socks.

Port Perry Star, 7 June 1916, page 1.

The needles called for simply say No. 13. If a bell gauge is being used for this measurement, Colleen Formby notes that this size would be the equivalent of a US1 or 2.25mm needle. I’m assuming the “4-ply Scotch Fingering” is simply a grey fingering/sock weight yarn, and while the “four-eighths grey cotton warp, 3 ply” has me somewhat at a loss, I’m also assuming they’re calling for a fingering/sock weight yarn.

The Oshawa newspapers had also published directions for knitting socks, but while the instructions from Port Perry recommended using two different yarn types, the Oshawa newspaper simply said to use wool. The two different types of yarn and the reasoning for switching back and forth, to increase the stretchiness, was both interesting and, admittedly, something I hadn’t heard of before.

It’s also interesting to me that the directions, as printed in the Port Perry newspaper, assume the knitter knows what they are doing if they are instructed to “finish the ankle and foot… in the usual manner.” I know I was nervous turning my first heel, and the second sock I ever made was the WWI sock from the Oshawa newspaper. I remember calling my grandmother to make sure I was reading these heel turn instructions correctly. Turning a heel is serious business. However, if I was handed needles and yarn today and told to make a pair, I certainly would know how to make my heel and foot in a usual manner. Most knitters have their own sock recipe in their back pocket and know what to do. Perhaps these instructions of simply finishing in a usual manner are not so out of place in 1916.

In an academic journal, historian Sarah Glassford remarked, “Turning the heel on a Red Cross sock, for instance, required four needles, and no rough or protruding seams that might hurt soldiers’ feet were allowed” (“The Greatest Mother in the World:” Carework and the Discourse of Mothering in the Canadian Red Cross Society during the First World War).

The caveat of discouraging the rough seams to protect feet was a large part of why the grafting the toe became popular (this technique also know as the Kitchener Stitch – I’ve written about Lord Kitchener and the technique named for him in a previous post; I think I might need to revisit this as there has been great discourse as to the namesake and his actions during the Boer War, especially around the policies of concentration camps. As I said, a post for another day…)

This pattern came from the Canadian Red Cross Society. I was able to find a bulletin for the Canadian Red Cross from April 1916, and deep within the publication was the same sock pattern. It was advised that no other materials (yarns or needles) be substituted, and that if you wanted a cone of cotton warp (which would make about eight sock legs), it could be obtained for 25¢ from the Supply Department of the Canadian Red Cross Society at 77 King Street East, Toronto.

I’m not in a rush to try making this pair of socks, nor do I think I eventually will. The needles, yarn, and stitches called for would make a pair of socks that would fit me, and if anything does get me to try it, it would be to see how the two materials work together. Curiosity more than anything would get me to cast on.

Sock progress

It feels appropriate that, during ‘Socktober,’ I got a bit of sock mojo back.

Well, ok, that’s not exactly true. Did I finish the projects I needed to and have no real mojo for anything else? Maybe…

But, for months, I’ve been working on a pair of ‘just because’ Vanilla Latte socks for my dad, and Sock #2 got its due attention over the past few days. Who knows, perhaps with a little determination and undivided attention, I MIGHT be able to finish the pair. That’s one of the main goals of this whole ‘knitting thing,’ right? Finishing stuff… Yeah, we’re getting to it.

Autumn just got a little cozier

Being in a bit of a sock slump as of late meant that it was remarkable that I hunkered down and finished a pair of socks this weekend. What’s even more remarkable to me is that, according to my Ravelry page, I’ve had this pair of socks ongoing since January 2020. Yes, you read that right. I started this pair 17 months ago. This pair of socks was on my needles, in some form or another, longer than the pandemic has lasted thus far.

BUT, some dedicated knitting over the last week means I have a new pair of socks for my feet, and aren’t they PRETTY!

The pattern is Cozy Autumn Socks (RAV LINK) by This Handmade Life, a free pattern on their Ravelry page (and if it’s available off rav, I’m sorry, but a quick google search on my part turned up empty).

I was suckered in to this pattern by the simple lace pattern, creating the look of cables. It was all achieved with yarn overs, K2Tog and SSK – no cabling at all. I’ve had the yarn, Robosheep Yarns Sock in colourway Zombie Face, in my stash since the 2018 Toronto Yarn Hop, and it worked up into lovely socks.

Why on earth it took me so long to get finished, I have no idea. My overall sock-enthusiasm hasn’t been high. Could it be less places for me to take my vanilla socks out to? Could it be the bursting dresser drawer already filled with socks? Who’s to say, really. BUT, I did manage to get the cuff and over 30 rounds of leg finished on a new pair yesterday alone. This time, the pattern was Kate Atherley’s latest design, A Dip in the Road. The subtle garter striping is amazing. Maybe my sock mojo’s back?

Sock Stories – February 2021

After my mad dash to get two pairs of socks finished in a month, I haven’t done any sock knitting in January. None. Nothing. Nada.

I have a few pairs sitting in the WIP pile, but have I worked any rounds of them? Not at all.

If you haven’t, perhaps give my post from a few weeks ago a read. I may not have knit socks, but I certainly wrote about them! One of the pairs I made for Christmas was a from a pattern from 1939, so I wrote about my experience knitting that pair and my interpretations of the over 80 year old instructions.

In the meantime, happy knitting!

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.