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one small islet in the sea of digital text
March 13th, 2013 by Heather Asbeck

Knitting for Victory

Life How to Knit

Not her (grand)mother’s knitting: the next generation joins the fray during WWII

What role did knitting and knitting-related media messages play in WWI and WWII?  I examined knitting-themed propaganda to answer that question in my Omeka exhibit, Knitting for Victory:  Transatlantic Propaganda in WWI & WWII.  Essentially, knitting provided a way to measure patriotic support on the home front.  Knitting in public or in communal settings was a way to publicize support, and knitting at home was a convenient way to labor for the war effort, while garments sent to soldiers communicated concern and dedication of those at home and helped to boost morale.  Knitting also served to pacify the masses anxiously awaiting news from the front or the return of their loved ones.

However, though I was able to include items to illustrate these messages, I did run into some roadblocks to my project.  I knew some of the images that I wanted to include, but spent a lot of time searching for additional ones.  I was forced to exclude several of the images I had hoped to include, and usually this occurred because I could not find a clean high quality version of an image that was usable.  Tiny thumbnail pictures, heavily pixelated images, or digitally watermarked photos were unusable.  Many images I found were falsely tagged.  For example, posters blatantly emblazoned “American Red Cross” in bright red letters were often tagged as British. I thought that sites like the Library of Congress would be helpful, since so many images are cataloged there, but the sheer volume of tiny thumbnail images that had to be clicked multiple times (once to open the page for the item, another time to make it larger once the page opened) just to determine whether or not they were useful was a cumbersome process.  Another issue I encountered was a difficulty in locating British images.  Many of the items I located were outside the scope of this project, or – again – were of poor quality or too small to be used.

Though I encountered some frustrations, I also encountered other items I would like to add in the future.  Canada provides an interesting perspective, particularly on WWI.  As part of the British Commonwealth, Canada entered the first world war when Britain did, but since it was geographically closer to the United States, Canadians were also heavily exposed to American media.  I found a few distinctly Canadian contributions to the wartime media.  I would also like to add some literary samples, such as Siegfried Sassoon’s Glory of Women, the Khaki Knitting Book, Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s Knitting, and the poems in Sock Songs, among others.

Ultimately, I found the project interesting and enlightening because while a search for WWII Red Cross posters will return a variety of results – including predominantly WWI images – there is a distinct difference in the types of images used for each war.  These differences underscore the different perceptions of women’s roles in the war.  Nursing posters, in particular, illustrate this evolution.  WWI nursing recruitment posters depicted nurses in habit-like uniforms and poses reminiscent of the Virgin Mary, while WWII nurses wore a feminized military-style uniform.  These changing roles carry over into the knitting propaganda as well.  In WWI media, women are presumed to be in the home, but a generation later the WWII media acknowledges college educated and working women.  The focus shifts from knitting as something that could be done as a means of (unpaid) employment to an activity that may be done in addition to job duties.

So, take some time, browse the Knitting for Victory exhibit, and let me know what you think!

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ETA (3/18/13):  I realize that I neglected to provide a rationale for the structure/design of my exhibit.  Once I figured out how, I tried quite a few of the available themes.  I prefer a clean minimalist look, because I want the viewer to focus on the items in the exhibit, rather than a decorative background.  I first chose the “minimalist” theme, based on the assumption that it would be the most neutral.  Dissatisfied, I tried others, and finally opted for the “default” setting.  Despite my minimalist leanings, I would have preferred a template a bit more exciting and customizable than the offered options.

For the page layouts, I wanted the images to be the primary focus when the pages loaded, so I placed large (rather than thumbnail) images on the left side of the page, with expository text to the right.  (I also decided not to use any of the formats that would automatically crop my images into squares, since they were all rectangular.  I did not want either to omit important information from the initial view of the image, nor did I want the viewer to have to click each picture to view the full image.)  Embedded links provide additional support for my arguments in the form of images, articles, music, and even a facsimile of the “Make Do and Mend:  Keeping Family and Home Afloat on War Rations” booklet.  My goal was for the collected images to tell the story of how women’s roles were perceived/reinforced/subverted by the knitting-related media produced during the war effort, so that viewers could get a sense of the message from the combined images both with and without the accompanying explication.  In the interest of providing a preview of the full exhibit, I also added a gallery page within my about section.  This gallery showcases captioned thumbnail images; clicking an image will reveal the Dublin Core info, while clicking the caption will take the user directly to the item’s page within the exhibit.  I wanted viewers to be able to contemplate the entire constellation of images and the ideological threads that unite or separate them, or to be able to select an individual image to browse from the entire collection, rather than accessing it solely through the section where it resides.


3 Responses to “Knitting for Victory”
  1. Josh Mc Quary says

    An interesting topic, I didn’t know that about this time period. The messaging sent through the knitting is remarkable. Doing this during a time that we were at war, this is a great way to pass messages along the troops.

  2. I think you did a great job of displaying all of the information you found in the exhibit. It is easy to follow and I like that you chose just one image to put on the side of the text. It really draws attention to it. The links throughout the texts to more pictures and information are really helpful and well thought out also. I know it was probably too hard to do in the time allotted but maybe some of the images you could not find online could be found in books somewhere and then scanned in? Either way, I love your exhibit and it really shows that you did a ton of research! The minimalist background works well for it too.

  3. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one not liking the layouts Omeka offered. So much more creativity could have been explored if only we had more options (or understanding of how to create our own layouts). I agree that the simple layout you chose helped keep the focus on the items rather than the page as a whole. One thing I really liked was how much description you gave to each item. There wasn’t just a title and a brief sentence- there was information that I personally found very intriguing. However, I was wondering if you had a personal connection to knitting, or why you chose the topic.

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