Tag Archives: craft event

Centenary Stitches

One of my lovely gardening clients, who knows I’m a crochet addict, told me of an exhibition she’s heard about on the radio called Centenary Stitches. It sounded very interesting, and I was keen to go. Finding out it was in Lincoln, I figured it was a bit too far to visit just for an exhibition! But then I remembered I had some money-off vouchers from a delayed train journey in the summer, so I decided to use them to day-trip halfway up the country especially. And I’m glad I went – it was a small exhibition, but I spent nearly an hour and a half having a good ol’ rummage around.

The Centenary Stitches project grew from the costuming of a community film called Tell Them of Us. The aim was to create something centred around the war story of ordinary people, not celebrated already by fame or high rank. But these are the people about whom there is typically less documentation. However, one family – the Crowders from the village of Thimbleby in Lincolnshire – had maintained a comprehensive archive containing letters, memoirs and scrapbooks, photos and other items from the Great War years. From this family archive, a script and screenplay developed.


If the stories of everyman are difficult to discover due to lack of records, costuming and clothing can be even more tricky. Fabrics are fragile, especially the woollens, being susceptible to moth damage or easy to repurpose, for example, through felting. Photographic evidence provides little more information, as these tended to record special events rather than daily attire. Knitting patterns from the era are a more reliable source, though these are problematic for the 21st century yarner thanks to the difference in culture; in the early 20th century, most girls were schooled in knitting and crochet, so patterns didn’t need the details required by many today. For instance, sock instructions could use the short-hand “turn the heel” and the reader could proceed without panic and you-tube how-to guides. Some of the items in this exhibition are clothes crafted for the film, but there are also reproductions of other items from World War One.

There are two woolly stories to be told here: one is military – how knitting affected the lives of troops at the Front; the other is social – the tale of women and how their clothing reflected their increasing emancipation.


Military uniforms were not enough for the needs of the soldiers, and were supplemented with knitted accessories that came to be known as ‘comforts’. These were sent by women to their loved ones in the trenches, but also distributed by organisations like the Red Cross and Regimental Comforts Fund. Such items included scarves, gloves, balaclavas and smooth-seamed socks. Lord Kitchener, British secretary of state for war and the face of “Your Country Needs You” posters, is credited with the invention of an invisible grafted toe seam which helped prevent blisters – sock patterns of the time were made with a seam up the toe that tended to cause chafing. Among the more unusual knits were knee warmers, often worn over bandages in hospital, and rifleman’s gloves without thumb and trigger finger. Despite the value of their endeavours, many of the crafters put themselves down as being just a “Sister Susie”, and denigrated their war work , believing it to be a minimal contribution because  they did not suffer or don a uniform. But VAD nurse Olive Dent noted otherwise in her diary: “We nurses know how much the gifts and comforts are appreciated… Every stitch..meant a few minutes greater comfort – and correspondingly less pain – from an aching body tortured on our behalf, for our defence and birthrights.” She goes so far as to say that these Sister Susies performed “some of the most valuable war service”.


Rifleman’s glove

The process of women becoming more active participants in society, in roles that were previously denied them, meant that their clothes had to change. Greater freedom of movement became necessary. There was a shift from garments which needed to be clung to like the shawl, to those such as jumpers and cardigans. Women started to ditch the restrictive corset and this was hastened by metal shortages brought about by the war – metal, of course, was needed to construct the framework of corsets. Apart from maintaining a rigid, upright posture, corsets also provided an insulating layer  to the torso so all that would be required to stave off the chill might be a shawl. Without this thermal layer, those same garments enabling freer movement, the waistcoats etc, became fundamental for warmth.

The costume design for the film was based on original knitting patterns from the Edwardian period as well as photographs of the eldest Crowder sister, Grace, whose clothing was ‘reverse-engineered’ by specialist knitters. Looking around the exhibition, most of the items were knitted which is hardly surprising given that, traditionally, crochet uses more yarn, which isn’t conducive to the frugality that the war demanded. One of my favourite pieces was a knitted wrap waistcoat.

Knitted wrap waistcoat with crocheted embellishment

Its maker said she was excited to see the way garter stitch was used in this pattern because people usually think garter stitch is boring. It has a crocheted embellishment on the belt, which I liked. Other crocheted items included a bag, shawls and hats. The most surprising item was a tie done in Tunisian crochet, certainly an unusual technique today as I suspect it was then, too.

Tunisian crocheted tie

Commemorating a war through its woolies is an unusual venture, perhaps deemed too trivial in comparison with the horrors endured by the soldiers, or not dramatic enough to be considered. But knitting and crochet really did play an important, if understated, role.

 Further Reading


Jane Crowfoot, The Kitchener Stitch, in The Knitter, Issue 19



Filed under Events, History, Travel (sling yer hook)

Mitts For Monday

So, I’ve taken my first tentative steps into the realms of making-to-sell!


I had the oppotunity to host a stall at a Christmas party-bazaar last Sunday, run by a Walthamstow-based jewellery maker who I’ve done a few classes with. (Birgit Barrett of Beyond Beading. www.beyondbeading.co.uk )  I committed to the stall around four weeks before, without having any products or specific designs.  I settled on the idea of mitts which are, in theory, quick to make up.  I only managed nine pairs in the end.  It would have been twelve, but I messed up three sets.  Frustrating!!  Nine pairs in four weeks may not sound like a lot but several factors affected productivity: due to the size of the venue, I knew the stall would be small (between 2 – 4 pages of A4) so I was told I wouldn’t need much; some of the time was spent experimenting (not all ideas worked out – as I had precious little time, this felt like a waste of time rather than a learning process); and I went to visit a friend for a few days.  Unnecessay distraction!

I did four styles: plain rib (double crochet front loop only: half treble back loop only); plain rib with buttons at the wrist; a double ribbed type (a ridge&furrow rib acheived with raised trebles, with the flatter rib of the other mitts across the palm); and longer mitts using hairpin crochet, again using plain rib over the palm.

Having beavered away for a month, I only managed to sell one pair!  Still, better than nowt!  And most other stall holders didn’t sell much either.  Birgit said similar events in previous years fared better, but that’s just the way it goes.  One of the other stallholders said the amount of times she’s sworn she wouldn’t do another market after a slow session… but she always does.  Interestingly, one of the jewellery makers said she can’t make products with beads and stones she doesn’t like.  In agreement with her was a lady who makes cards and crocheted brooches.  She said she had at one point really focused on what she thought customers might like, choosing a range of colours etc, but that these items didn’t sell well after all, so now she makes what she personally likes.  Food for thought for a newbie like myself!

It was definitely worth doing this small event.  I had positive feedback on my products and the experience got me thinking about presentation (not my forte).  Luckily, my fabulous friend Lesley and her lodger Serena had been on hand to help out doing labels etc, for which I am very grateful.  I owe them a cake or a round of drinks..


Filed under Events, Makes

Lost In Yarn

Picture this: it’s the height of summer, the sky is dreary, and you’re lost in the coils of a maze.  A knitted maze.  This was the second Saffron Walden Maze Festival, a celebration inspired by the town’s two historic mazes – one, an ancient turf labyrinth, the other a nineteenth century hedge puzzle.

Is there a difference between a labyrinth and a maze?  The two terms are often used interchangeably but they are actually distinct things.  Labyrinths came first, dating back at least four thousand years, and are based on a unicursal design with a single path to the centre.  Mazes are far more recent, appearing about five hundred years ago, and are challenges with dead-ends to confuse and frustrate.

Undoubtedly the most famous labyrinth story is that of the slaying of the Minotaur, a beast who periodically required human sacrifice.  The hero, Theseus, managed to slay this bull-headed monster, finding his way back along the contorted path using yarn given to him by Ariadne, which he’d trailed behind him on his inward journey.  Any clever-clogs amongst us may well be asking why anyone would need such assistance if there was just a single route.  True, but I wonder if any of the victims destined to be gobbled down by the Minotaur would’ve known this.  When confronted with a tortuous path, no map, and in fear of one’s life, really, how logical would anyone be??

A maze made from knitting

The knitted maze

The knitted maze I meandered was a maze in the proper sense. It occurred to me that this was an interesting inversion of the Minotaur legend, the yarn becoming the trap rather than an aid to escape. It was an easy enough maze to traverse, even for the likes of me (I’ve been known to get lost in mazes even with a map in hand!) It was no more than hip-high, with lengths of knitted and crocheted pieces sewn together and pegged onto twine strung between bamboo canes. It brought to mind Dr. Who’s scarf if that were to be hung out to dry after laundering. At the centre was another yarn maze, a so-called ‘finger maze’ to be followed with fingertips, worked in eye-boggling colours, the red leaping out of the blue.

Centre of the knitted maze

Centre of the maze

Other textile mazes could be found on display at the shop Craft Days, and were the best entries of a competition. One which brought a smile to my face was titled ‘Purple Haze Maze’ but my favourite was the winning entry: ‘Old Wise Oak’ by Ruth Pickering. It had no obvious maze but the tree was gnarled and twisted in a labyrinthine tangle of sinews often seen in ancient trees. Another was titled ‘MM – Mandala Maze’ by Bella Fuerst, a crocheted circle with a maze traced into it using surface stitches.

Old Wise Oak

Old Wise Oak

Mandala Maze

Mandala Maze

I suppose the most frequent maze that all knitters and hook workers encounter is the ordinary ball of wool. Just think of the tangle that we all get into at some point – a labyrinth of yarn turning each of us into a monster at the centre!


Filed under Travel (sling yer hook)