Knitting for Victory: Transatlantic Propaganda in WWI & WWII

Knitting for Victory

While men were being recruited by Uncle Sam or Lord Kitchener, women were also being conscripted for patriotic service.  Knitting was promoted as a social activity that was predominantly utilized by women to support the war effort during both World War I and World War II.  Groups like the American Red Cross and British Red Cross used promotional posters and pamphlets to promote the activity, and also provided wool yarn in appropriate colors for soldiers, while celebrities and average Janes posed for publicity photos, composers wrote songs, and military heroes devised new knitting techniques. Knitting in support of the war effort was promoted both to communicate homeland support, as well as to keep anxious women occupied and at home.  Although the industrial revolution had rendered handknitted garments neither the most efficient nor cost effective means of outfitting the soldiers, it was preferred as a visible show of support. A WWII-era New York Times article puts it this way:


Lord Kitchener Wants You


"The propaganda effect of hand knitting cannot be estimated in terms of hard cash, but it is considerable. A sweater for a bluejacket. A helmet for a flying cadet, made by some devoted woman in a small town far from the war, is sure to arouse interest in the navy or Air Force among the friends of the woman doing the knitting. And she herself feels that she has an active part in this vast conflict; she is not useless, although she can do nothing else to help win the war" (The New York Times, January 22, 1942).

Knitting, then was not only valued for it’s ability to keep the soldiers warm and comfortable (although it was promoted to the knitters as such), but as a means for promoting interest in the war effort, providing a distraction from the horrors of war, and keeping women occupied.  It also tied knitters together through community knitting groups and bound them in a communal fabric as individuals united for a particular cause.  It offered a lifeline to soldiers overseas, a wool tether that connected them psychologically and emotionally to their supporters at home via a tanglbie representation of support.

Uncle Sam Wants You