How Did We Get Here – A Brief Social History Of Knitting – Valerie Gross

I came across a blog post written by, Valerie Gross, which gives a brief break-down of the history of knitting, keeping it short and sweet. Her piece was extremely informative and has enabled me to gain a better understand of the history of knitting. It’s just an overview, however, has given me inspiration as to where to look next. It is thought that before the late 19th century, knitting was fundamentally a domestic activity and, therefore, a basic chore for women. Within the Victorian period knitting was seen to be a great leisure activity for women, introducing the start of using the craft within a social gathering for fun. Fast forward to the first and second world wars we saw a knitting mania where men, women and children would knit garments for the brave soldiers. These events were organised on a mass scale, this saw a breakdown of gender roles as everyone would was able got involved. If you weren’t joining in then you would be seen as being non-patriotic and non-supportive of the troops in the U.S. It becomes apparent that within the war people related back to craft to feel useful in times of hardship. A concept I am interested in as essentially this will be the bases of my campaign. Even though many, during the early part of the 1900’s, described the craft of knitting as being a ‘silly past-time’ by the time the great depression hit in 1930 many women opened small knitting shops to earn money for their families. Vogue, at this time, saw the popularization of knitting and began a sub magazine celebrating knitwear within fashion. Again, linking back to austerity and the idea of having to make do with anything you had or could do to feed and clothe you family during a period of a tight economy, Gee’s Bend quilts and flour sack dresses are examples of this.

By the time the 1950’s came along individuals had more money. Knitting is now seen to be an association with the home, however, these individuals were still wearing knits in association with nostalgic knits of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Around this time we see a decline in the popularity of knitwear and knitting, as a result, Vogue dropped their knitting magazine due to its lack of readers. Knitting had begun to lose popularity until the 1970’s were hippies adopted the use of knitwear within their wardrobes. Then again in the 1980’s where the British art college began using the craft to make money, proving that there was money to be earned in this circumstance. Kaffe Fassett then proved, within his publication ‘Glorious knits’, alongside his colourful and beautiful pieces of knitted work that knitted pieces were valid pieces of artwork. His amazing work then showcased at the V&A, the first time a textile artist had their work displayed there. Following on from this we see the re-introduction of knitting in the form of a social event dubbed, stitch ‘n’ bitch, by Debbie Stoller which derived from the world war two ideals of social knitting. Now, not because of austerity, rather, a space for relaxation and a rewarding pass-time. From what I’ve learnt from this piece I will follow into further research, looking at the work of Kaffe Fassett, the ideals of Debbie Stoller’s newly named ‘Stitch ‘n’ Bitch’ and both the social and mindfulness of the craft. The social aspect of using craft is prevalent to my research and my final outcome. As I am hosting a stitch ‘n’ bitch to raise money for our years graduate fashion week and also to collect primary research to better understand the social element of craft I will need to look into the mental side of the act of craft in order to make full use of my time during my event, getting valuable information through asking the correct questions.

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