Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Thank you, Oliver Kamm, for pointing me to this and making my day.

Knitting was not, as it is now, a leisure activity or stress reliever. Rather, it was a means of putting food on the table for many families in Britain in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Women were proud of their skills, but in many accounts that I've read, spoke with a bitterness at having been forced to do great quantities of piecework for relatively low pay, or at having work thrown back at them by potential buyers.

The notion that knitting is an anti-war activity is a weird one, as there is, at least in the US, a long history of knitting goods for soldiers. For examples of some vintage WWI and WWII patterns provided by the Red Cross, go to Lion Brand's website.

Finally, about knitting being solely a women's activity: perhaps so in modern England or the US, but in many parts of the world, this is simply not the case. In Iceland and Scandinavia, both boys and girls were taught to knit in school. I believe that in some middle eastern countries (Iran is one that comes to mind, but will have to look it up), women were not allowed to knit at all; it was considered men's work.

It's a pity that, given the beautiful things that have been created over the centuries, the Crafts Council chose to highlight the work of some needlework Damien Hirsts. In this, as in many other realms, though, shock seems to win out over all else.

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