Proof Positive That There Was a 'Knitting Craze'

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Proof Positive That There Was a 'Knitting Craze'

Joke cartoon that proves there was a knitting craze. A beautiful girl in Birmingham, Alabama, is eclipsed from view by her huge knitting bag.

Yes, children. There was a 'knitting craze', and the Post Editor can prove it. We have cartoons. We even have a play about it.

The play is called The Knitting Girls Count One, and it has this to say on its front page:

Nearly all the incidents in this play have actually occurred during the present great war.

September, 1918.

Note: If those taking part do not care to sing, the songs can be omitted without affecting the sense of the dialogue.

We're quite sure the author, Elise West Quaife, was right. Singing wasn't required: but knitting was in this play about Sister Suzie sewing socks for soldiers. You see, the knitting craze involved doing it for charity – Belgian war refugees1, and soldiers of the allied armies were the primary recipients of all this activity, but friends and relations were not exempt from one's knit-one-purl-one largesse. Women themselves took to sporting more knitwear between 1914 and 1918. The knitting volunteers weren't all women: men and boys took up the craft as well.

Most people thought it was a lot of fun, and it gave the knitters a welcome sense of doing something for the war effort. After all, it must have been really frustrating, knowing that your loved ones were far from home, definitely in miserable conditions, possibly in danger of their lives, and wishing you could just be there to give them a cup of tea and a word of comfort. Knitting was the only connection for some people with the child, brother, or father they might never see again. So we see why they did it, and we applaud.

Another hilarious piece of knitting humour. The butler is carrying Madam's knitting on a salver.

That doesn't mean we don't feel like making fun of the faddists. The author of this play does.

Here's the list of characters:

Mrs. Mildred Thayer, A Young Widow.

Helen Hartley, 20 years old, President of the Red Cross of Balmville.

Kathleen Norris, 17 years old.

Janet Hale, 18 years old.

Nora Ryan, Mrs. Thayer's maid, 22 years old,

Rodelle Saunders, 19 years old.

Obviously, they're not going to make this gender-neutral.

Here's part of the opening scene – about as much as we could stand. If you want to read the rest, go to Internet Archive and have a ball.

The Knitting Girls Count One

Scene: Mrs. Thayer's living room in Balmville, a small village where conventions prevail2. It is a simple, pleasant room, with a good sized round table on which are scattered books and magazines; several easy chairs, a comfortable lounge, and a piano. (The piano need not be on stage).

Discovered3: Mrs. Thayer, a sweet-faced young woman, is seated by the table, at left of room, knitting a soldier's sock. On the table, near her, is a work-basket, containing another sock, only partly completed. Helen, a brisk, bright young woman, very much up-to-date as to Clothes4, is erect at one end of the lounge, knitting a soldier's sweater, while at the other end, curled up, with her feet under her, idly observing the other two, is Kathleen, a very pretty, fair-haired girl, dressed like a doll5. The center of the stage is open, but there are doors at right and left, and a window wherever convenient6. As curtain rises, Helen drops her knitting for one moment, and looks indignantly at Kathleen, who, in abstracted fashion, is playing with the ball of yarn. Helen reaches across the lounge, takes the yarn out of Kathleen's hand, and continues her argument.

HELEN. It's not the ability that is lacking in your case, Kathleen. It's the inclination.

KATHLEEN. But, Helen, there are some things one simply cannot do. I can't knit any more than I can drive a car – I'm too nervous.

HELEN. (Briskly) Nonsense. Any girl can drive a car if she makes up her mind to learn7. When Martin tried to teach me to run our Packard, I looked at the steering wheel, and thought of the hills, and was terrified8. And after I had backed down into a ditch twice, and run over a chicken once, the car seemed a bloody monster, eager for my gore. But Martin was drafted this Spring, and it was either run the car or walk two miles to the postoffice every day. I ran the car9!

MILDRED. (Smiling10) Why go to the postoffice every day11?

HELEN. You, a widow, to ask a girl that question, when the postoffice is our only means of communication with the masculine sex.12

KATHLEEN. (Leans forward, hand around her knees13) Yes, isn't it awful! We were at Lime Rock Hotel all summer, and I only had two flirtations, and those were with boys with flat feet and sore eyes14.

HELEN. (Sings15)

"When you're off on your vacation,

If you want to serve your nation,

Believe me, you should be,

Making love16 to a knitting girl."

Which brings us back to our muttons17. If you refuse to make socks, will you come to the Red Cross rooms once a week and make pajamas18?

KATHLEEN. I tell you I can't sew.

HELEN. Then you can pull basting threads19. I pull them, – by the hundred yards. It is not inspiring work, therefore the other girls leave it to me.

KATHLEEN. (Rather cross) But it's so stupid, spending one's perfectly good time, sewing! (She rises, wanders over to a mirror, and strikes an attitude20) If I could pose for the movies, and make a lot of money for the soldiers, I would do it in a minute21, but sewing! Ugh! It gives me a headache to sit still and poke a needle through sticky old flannel. (She arranges a rebellious lock of hair22)

MILDRED. (Gravely) Better you should have a headache, than that some wounded soldier in the hospital should be without covering.

KATHLEEN. (Swings round from the mirror, comes leans on table) Oh, I had a letter from Billy yesterday. He says three of the boys, who were sleeping in the trench with him – only on the north side – had their heads blown straight off in the night. He was on the south side and wasn't hurt a bit.

Editor's Note: Will Kathleen grow a soul and learn how to knit? Will Billy get his head blown off, too? Will the village of Balmville enter the 20th Century before it is over? Will the world be made safe for Democracy? Will any knitting get done? We can't wait to find out. Thanks, Internet Archive!

And now, for another completely inappropriate cartoon:

Husband is alarmed that Baby has swallowed knitting yarn (wool). Mother opines that Baby, being female, will have to swallow a lot more yarns than that when she is older. This joke is a pun, or wordplay, on the word 'yarn', which can mean 'wool' or 'story, possibly untrue'. Implied is that men lie to their wives a lot in 1918.This joke was no doubt extremely funny at the time, but we think you had to have been there.
The Literary Corner Archive

Dmitri Gheorgheni

26.02.18 Front Page

Back Issue Page

1We are trying not to think of Monsieur Poirot, who started his fictional existence as a war refugee, being handed a badly-knitted and brightly-coloured sleeveless jumper by an overbearingly cheerful aunt of Honora Glossop's. We are trying, but we are failing.2We think this means that they're stuffy and old-fashioned, and not that Dragoncon is held there.3This means they're onstage when the curtain goes up, not that they've been caught doing something naughty. Although you never can tell with theatre people. They should remember that Balmville is a small village where conventions prevail.4Many of which, no doubt, are knitted.5Malibu Barbie or Chatty Cathy?6This approach to architecture strikes us as quite novel.7We like Helen already.8Seriously? Okay, minus one feminism point.9The penny drops. The girls are only supposed to learn to drive because the men are at war. We get it, now. Even though they're terrified of the machine, poor things…Gag us with a spoon.10OCR rendered this as 'Sun ling', making us wonder if we were suddenly in a different play.11Just read your email.12Oh. (Facepalm.)13A common, 'girlish' gesture in 1918. We've seen this in films.14Obviously, Kathleen has very high dating standards. 15Or not, if she doesn't want to.16This is not what you think it is in 1918. We thinking kissing might have been involved, but we're not sure if they went that far.17We are lost. It really says 'muttons'. If you have an idea why it says 'muttons', please let us know.18The pj's aren't knitted. We're relieved.19What are basting threads, you ask? Oh, go ask someone who can sew.20Why? She already has attitude enough for two people.21We just bet you would.22Her hair is trying to disassociate itself from this obnoxious person.

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