Photo no. 17: During the war women all across the nation were kept busy knitting gray or drab balls of wool into socks or other garments in their spare time. Here an advanced knitter performs the difficult task of knitting two socks at once.
Photo no. 18: Wounded Doughboys were also taught how to knit while recovering in military hospitals. This activity not only contributed to the war effort, but it also helped the recuperating soldiers to while away the long hours of what could be an otherwise very tedious recovery time.
During WW I the U.S. government asked the American people to devote their spare time to knitting wool socks, sweaters, mufflers and many other garments for the men and boys serving at home and overseas. Most of this volunteer work was carried out by women but Americans of all ages, including men and children took part in this campaign to help keep the soldiers warm. During the course of the war the American Red Cross alone, produced approximately 14,089,000 different knitted garments for the war effort and countless other items were made by family members and sent directly to their loved ones in the A.E.F.
In the summer of 1917 the American Red Cross went into the knitting business and launched a massive campaign on the home front. The Red Cross and other relief organizations put out an urgent request for knitted goods of all kinds to help fight the war. It needed a minimum of one and a half million each of knitted wristlets, mufflers, sweaters and other comfort items, but the most urgently needed item was wool socks. It began by teaching thousands of men, women and children how to knit; its supply bureau purchased one million pounds of wool and printed detailed instruction booklets and patterns that had been approved by the War Department’s Clothing and Equipage Division. The Red Cross along with other relief and charitable organizations such as the Knights of Columbus and the Jewish Welfare League organized knitters all across the nation to “Knit for Sammy”.
These groups supplied the patterns, issued and sold the yarn, collected the finished products, subjected them to a thorough quality check, reworked minor imperfections and any item which did not meet the required specifications or that were too poorly made were returned to the maker, while the approved knit goods were shipped to Europe for distribution. The National Office of the Red Cross kept track of wool shortages, quotas, and it notified the local chapters across the nation of the most urgently needed items. The patriotic women, children and some men all wishing to do their bit worked at home in social groups, churches, schools, neighborhoods and in many workplaces. Non knitters were encouraged to purchase yarn for those who did knit but could not afford the seventy five cents to buy the yarn. In September, 1917, the Junior Red Cross was established. Among other things it taught school children how to knit. The young knitters began by making simple square washcloths for the soldiers. The children were also urged to help their mothers and grandmothers with the household chores so that they would have more free time available to knit for the war effort.
Each local chapter monitored the volunteers who took out knitting materials; some knitters with good intentions, took yarn from the Red Cross but failed to complete the garment. Red Cross officers had determined that twenty one days was an adequate amount of time to complete the task of knitting a pair of socks which was considered the most complicated item to knit. Any volunteer who had the yarn in their home beyond a reasonable period of time was asked to return either the yarn or a finished garment. The Red Cross claimed that, ”If the yarn is held out longer, relief is being kept from the men at the front.”
Many different articles were knit by friends, families, students and volunteers; they included, helmets (knit caps), stocking caps, balaclavas, ear warmers, scarves, mufflers, long sleeved and sleeveless sweaters, mittens, wristlets, socks, washcloths, heelless tube socks and “stump” socks which covered the amputated limbs of severely wounded soldiers. American knitters were able to purchase patterns, instructions and yarn in many shops and they were available from the various relief organizations. The instructions and patterns were also printed in many period catalogs, magazines and other wartime publications. The color, quality, design and detail of the home knit goods all varied drastically, based on the pattern chosen, the type of yarn used, and of course, the skill level of the individual knitter.
The finished garments were packed and shipped to Europe at the expense of the relief organizations. Upon arrival in Europe many of the knit garments were issued directly by the Red Cross or other organizations, however, the majority of the donations from home passed through military supply channels. Army supply officers were held strictly accountable for the proper distribution of all the knit goods and they had to be treated exactly the same as other government property. Most of the knit items donated by the relief organizations had a label sewn onto it with the organization’s name (I.E. Red Cross etc.) and the city or chapter where the garment originated, and the label clearly stated that it was “A gift” or “Not to be sold”. Many even contained cheery handwritten notes from the makers encouraging and thanking the soldiers for their service. It can be safely assumed that every soldier serving stateside, overseas or preparing to embark for Europe, received some form of knitted garment donated by the folks back home.Photo no. 19: Recruits check out the new Red Cross sleeveless sweaters that are being issued through the army supply system.