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.

The Earl Kitchener and His Stitch

Hey! If you’re reading this after 2022, I’ve written a post talking about the more problematic aspects of Kitchener as a historical figure. I would highly encourage you to read that post along with the one below.


If you’re a sock knitter, or at least have made a pair or two, you may be familiar with the Kitchener Stitch, a common form of grafting, creating a seamless toe.  To a novice knitter, the Kitchener stitch may appear to be challenging, but once you get the hang of it, the Kitchener stitch is fairly straight forward.  I actually like doing the Kitchener stitch – call me strange, but I find it relaxing and somewhat gratifying. Knit, purl, purl, knit, repeating over and over until the sock is complete.

I had honestly never given any thought to the name, but really, why would I have?  That’s the technique, and it creates a lovely finish to my sock.  But a few weeks ago, I followed a link from the Knitty Blog to a YouTube video, the Secret History of Knitting, where they discuss knitting and World War I.  Well, wasn’t my mind blown when the connection was made – it’s the Kitchener stitch after Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener. *insert sound effect of mind being blown*

Who is the Earl Kitchener?

Born in 1850 in Ireland, Horatio Herbert Kitchener would go on to become a high ranking official in the British army, seeing action in the Franco-Prussian War, the Mahdist War, the Second Boer War, and the First World War.  His image has become a piece of propaganda history as his face was immortalized on the “Your Country Needs You” poster.

30a_Sammlung_Eybl_Großbritannien._Alfred_Leete_(1882–1933)_Britons_(Kitchener)_wants_you_(Briten_Kitchener_braucht_Euch)._1914_(Nachdruck),_74_x_50_cm._(Slg.Nr._552)

He died in 1916 when the HMS Hampshire, a ship he was sailing on, was sunk by a German mine off the Orkneys (near the Northern Isles of Scotland).

Aspects around Kitchener’s involvement with his ‘stitch’ remain uncertain.  Some claim that Kitchener himself helped to design a sock pattern that included a new seamless method of grafting the toe, however, others say that Kitchener’s actual involvement is rooted more in lore than fact.  Indeed, knitting historian Richard Rutt claims that this grafting technique (known commonly as Kitchener Stitch) was invented around 1880.  Later, in 1918, Vogue magazine published a sock pattern with a grafted toe and called it the Kitchener sock, crediting Lord Kitchener for being a war effort champion, but Vogue did not claim he was the pattern ‘designer.’

I do have to ponder, why would a senior officer in the British army invent a knitting stitch?  One would think he would have more to occupy his time with, what with the largest conflict to date raging on. Kitchener was a strong advocate for the Red Cross and the homefront initiatives, including knitting, and he was concerned that having a seam at the toe could contribute to or worsen soldiers’ foot issues.

Whether he actually invented the stitch or not, sock knitters everywhere are grateful for the stitch that bears his name, the perfect way to finish off your sock.


*Did You Know: Kitchener, Ontario was named in honour of Earl Kitchener.  He died at a time when anti-German sentiments were at a peak in the then-named City of Berlin.  To try to dispel these sentiments, the city was renamed in honour of the popular and recently fallen Field Marshal.


Thanks to Knitty for sharing this video and getting me thinking about the Kitchener Stitch – the article that sparked this thinking is HERE.

There was a fantastic discussion on Ravelry outlining basic info on Kitchener, his comparison to Uncle Sam, and, of course, the ‘Stitch’ and that can be read HERE.

The BBC has a short yet succinct bio of Horatio Herbert Kitchener where can be read HERE.

Finally, other bloggers have looked into Kitchener and his namesake stitch, and you could read about it HERE and HERE (to share only a few of the many sites out there).