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Tigerreb
10-09-2006, 08:38 PM
This came up, did soldiers, while in long camp (winter time, etc) ever knit items for their usage, or sale/trade to their fellow soldiers?? Figure things like socks, mittens, head covers, mufflers, and the like?? If yes, is there documentation??
Would seem to me that with the lack of supplies during parts of the year, a person would 'learn' to knit for self-preservation and perhaps to make a few cents.
Thanks for any response or direction
JIM Tee

Spinster
10-10-2006, 10:37 PM
Jim,

I've seen no accounts of soldiers knitting, though it was not an unknown accomplishment for men---stocking knitting was still a common cottage industry for poor children and women even into the latter parts of the century, so the skill would have been known by some soldiers.

There was however, an astounding effort to produce knit goods for soldiers on both sides of the conflict, with yarns and reimbursement issued through the Quartermaster of several southern states, as well as the efforts of the Christian Commission and the Sanitary Commission. Knit goods would have rarely been in short supply to the army---and at those times that they were, yarns would have also been hard to obtain.

A man who knew how to knit would also have known how to mend knitting--to darn properly, or to retoe, reheel, or refoot a worn sock.

This has proved a fascinating demo for participant and spectator alike----and one sorely needed, if my basket contents are a good measure. I'd recommend you direct your knitting skills in that manner.

vmescher
10-12-2006, 01:01 PM
This came up, did soldiers, while in long camp (winter time, etc) ever knit items for their usage, or sale/trade to their fellow soldiers?? Figure things like socks, mittens, head covers, mufflers, and the like?? If yes, is there documentation??
Would seem to me that with the lack of supplies during parts of the year, a person would 'learn' to knit for self-preservation and perhaps to make a few cents.
Thanks for any response or direction
JIM Tee

The following quotes I have for men knitting are not for soliders but it does indicate that boys and men did knit.

From _Brokenburn: The Journal of Kate Stone 1861-1868_. Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press.
1972.

[Jimmy was 14 in 1861, Ashburn was 18 and died in 1861 and Kate was 20.]

Sept. 13, 1861 "Have my knitting for steady work. Jimmy is hard at work knitting a white yarn necktie. He made his own needles. Ashburn made a beautiful, polished pair for me."

Sept. 19, 1861 "I am knitting a pair of gloves for Brother and earnestly desired to finish one today. Worked faithfully until 9 o’clock and then gave up
for the night. Mamma started on the mate to mine this afternoon and will
finish it before I do. It is a laborious work to me and she does it with
such ease. The long fingers are such a trial to get right. Fortunately,
they are easy to rip. Shall I ever have the courage to attempt another pair?
All the boys are at work knitting with bones except Brother Coley and he is ambitious to learn. Other Pa learned when he was a little boy and has
taught them, and he has knitted a complete glove today with long
fingers. The gloves are for the soldiers and we are leaving the ends of
the fingers open so that they can handle their guns well."

Sept. 20, 1861 "The family all were sewing and knitting all day. ... We, all together, have finished two pairs of gloves and are all busy on others."

Oct. 7, 1861 "I finished the read and white comforter for Capt. Peck... Jimmy
finished his comforter and we will take it in the morning with a number of
articles made by Mrs. Curry, Mrs. McRae, and ourselves out to the sewing
society.

Nov. 7, 1962 "After they (guests) had left, Johnny and I were sitting cozily
by the parlor fire. I had been practicing and he was knitting on a
glove…"

It is concievable that if boys learned to knit at home before the war and could make knitting needles that they may have taken it up again in camp if they could have obtained the yarn.

KarinTimour
10-15-2006, 10:13 AM
Dear Mr. Tee:

Personally, I think the world would be a better place if everybody were knitting. If you're in the area and want to start, come see me at Remembrance Day, I'll be over near the new location for CJ Daley. I'd be happy to teach you or offer advice if you've already started.

With regard to documentation of men in our period knitting, I've not seen much. As Virginia Mescher noted on the thread you started about this topic on the Authentic Campaigner, Major Charles Mills did some knitting during his recuperation from wounds he got at Antietam. Those of you who want to read his letters can read "Thourgh Blood and Fire: The Civil War lLetters of Major Charles J. Mills, 1862-1865" edited by Gregory Coco. This was mentioned in a book called "No Idle Hands: A Social History of American Knitting." by Anne MacDonald.

There is also mention of a Civil War veteran, I.R. Seelyee who participated in an open air "knit-in" sponsored by the Navy League Comforts Committee for World War I soldiers in 1918. They even have a picture of him, looking pretty dapper in a handlebar mustache and straw boater. But there's no knowing if he was knitting through the Civil War, learned after the war or just took it up when World War I came along.

As previously noted, many if not most boys would have learned basic knitting as children -- in many families just to keep everyone in socks, you needed all the help you could get. But I doubt that many native-born men continued knitting in later life. Depending on one's class and past life, certain parts of Europe were known for knitters of both sexes -- especially if you grew up in an area where hand knitting had been fostered as a cottage industry, and your family depended on it for survival. Northern England, parts of Wales and some parts of Norway and Sweden had traditions of both sexes knitting, especially during the winter months, and gathering in different homes to make social evenings while furiously knitting away to get items for sale.

As Mrs. Lawson notes, there is huge documentation that civilians were knitting for the war efforts -- both North and South. But when we hear of men coming to Sanitary Commission meetings or local soldier's aid society meetings, mention is not made of them knitting or sewing -- they are helping with packing the materials for shipment, or reading aloud or entertaining the (female) knitters.

I've long wondered whether or not men were knitting in Elmira or Andersonville. I've heard a lot of documentation about POWs knitting in World War I and World War II, so why not the Civil War as well? But unlike the soup bone rings and more durable souviners that are seen in museums today, anything they would have made would likely have been worn completely out or burned to get rid of vermin once they were released.

Sailors have a long history of beautiful embroidery, but I've never seen documentation of them knitting.

There is a balaclava in the Confederate Echooes of Glory which has a crocheted insert which was added after the knitting was finished. I've often wondered if the crocheting was done by the original knitter who relalized she'd made the face opening too big, or a field modification done by a soldier who found his balaclava getting stretched out and took action to keep cold air from zipping down his front.

I've never heard of soldiers selling knitting to others, though you hear of men who were famed for making wonderful carved wooden pipes during winter camp, etc. When you talk about the "lack of supply" keep in mind that this was often caused by being cut off from the transportation system, etc. If you are going to knit you need a) needles; b) know-how; c) something to knit with -- i.e. yarn. Certainly Federal soliders could have had wool yarn shipped to them from home. Southern soldiers might well have had a much harder time getting materials, especially as the demand for wool escalated, and the transportation system got less and less reliable. The Museum of the Confederacy has a pair of socks that Mrs. Hugh Holmes Lee knit of unravelled Federal shelter halves. Doesn't mean that soldiers did that as well, but the fact remains that one enterprising knitter looked at a shelter half and saw knitting fodder. Don't know how comfortable they'd be, either.

What about unravelling socks that were too far gone to repair and reknitting the remnants into a whole pair? Well, that depends. Certainly, some soldiers would wear a pair until they got serious holes, than throw them out and draw a new pair. The stories of this happening are usually early war stories of Federal armies on campaign.

The cost of a pair of Federal issue socks varied from 25 - 33 cents per pair. If you're getting $13 a month, roughly 3.33 for a 7 day week, then 33 cents is a little under a day's pay. How often do you cavalierly spend a days' pay today? And many men knew that that 13 dollars was all they could possibly contribute towards their family's survival, so the family men are likely sending as much of that home as possible (and thus not drawing any more clothing than they absolutely had to). There are a lot of stories of persistent, even if repeatedly futile attempts at darning, and when the toes were gone, some federal soldiers would reverse the socks and stick their feet in the toe end and walk on what used to be the sock leg. If the (usually better supplied) Federals are doing that, you can bet the Confederates are, on average, doing that and more to get every last bit of wear out of socks. So once someone has put his socks through all that, likely the remnants wouldn't have much left you could unravel to reknit.

If you come across documentation of soliders knitting in winter camp, POW camps or sailors on shipboard, please do share -- always looking for more information, there are several of us who are endlessly fascinated by documentation of knitting and crochet.

Hope that's helpful,
Karin Timour
Period Knitting -- Socks, Sleeping Hats, Balaclavas
Atlantic Guard Soldiers' Aid Society
Email: Ktimour@aol.com

bob 125th nysvi
10-17-2006, 03:21 PM
Rosie Greer (one of the most feared linemen of his time for you youngsters)could knit in an NFL locker room for relaxation.

Men were knitting in CW camps documentation or not.

Bob Sandusky
125th NYSVI
Esperance, NY

tompritchett
10-17-2006, 04:40 PM
Men were knitting in CW camps documentation or not.


When they had the materials with them. Granted this was probably common in garrison mode, but I wonder how common it would have been during campaigns when you were limited volume-wise and weight-wise on what you could carry.

Just my 2 cents.

KarinTimour
10-17-2006, 08:27 PM
Dear Sir:

I'd always heard of Rosie Greer doing needlepoint, but if he also knitted, good on him!

In terms of weight, the yarn for a sock and some sock needles are pretty small and lightweight. But yarn for four pair of socks is going to be heading toward a pound in weight. If we're talking knitting sweaters or larger pieces, the raw yarn alone is going to be extremely bulky.

We've got considerable documentation that many of them had the expertise and knitting needles aren't that difficult to make. The sticking point remains whether they had access to yarn or other materials to knit.

But if people feel like it, I'd be thrilled to see more men knitting in the field,
Sincerely,
Karin Timour
Period Knitting -- Socks, Sleeping Hats, Balaclavas
Atlantic Guard Soldiers' Aid Society
Email: Ktimour@aol.com

bob 125th nysvi
10-17-2006, 10:12 PM
The sticking point remains whether they had access to yarn or other materials to knit.

But if people feel like it, I'd be thrilled to see more men knitting in the field,
Sincerely,
Karin Timour
Period Knitting -- Socks, Sleeping Hats, Balaclavas
Atlantic Guard Soldiers' Aid Society
Email: Ktimour@aol.com

I suppose the civil war soldier wasn't a whole lot different than soldier of other eras. When in garrison gifts from home were requested and used (such as yarn) and when in the field it was 'appropriated' or bought from the local civilians. And except for being west of the Miss, most of the fighting was done in or around civilization, so civilians were never that far way. Much of the war in the east was done in the 100 mile stretch between Richmond and Washington - not exactly the Sahara desert population wise.

And Karin dear lady, you would not want to see me knitting, it would not be pretty.

Bob Sandusky
Co C 125th NYSVI
Esperance, NY

KarinTimour
10-18-2006, 05:36 AM
Dear Bob:

You wrote:
I suppose the civil war soldier wasn't a whole lot different than soldier of other eras.

Well, yes and no -- in later wars, POWs did receive Red Cross packages which sometimes had knitted clothing in them. They could unravel that or clothing that they had when they were put in the prison camp. Some of the POWs were in branches of the service where they didn't do as much walking -- the Air Force, for example. And some in World War I and World War II were transported by car or truck to the prison, rather than having to walk or ride a horse. Just because you're riding a horse doesn't mean your socks don't take a beating, as anyone in the mounted service can tell you. So soldiers from later wars might have had socks that weren't as badly abused at the point that they decided to unravel them.

You wrote:
When in garrison gifts from home were requested and used (such as yarn) and when in the field it was 'appropriated' or bought from the local civilians.

Well, I agree that Federal soldiers were often stationed somethere in a garrison where they were getting mail and newspapers, etc. on a regular basis. Northern civilians did have access to wool yarn, so I agree they could have easily shipped it to a garrisoned soldier if requested.

You wrote:
And except for being west of the Miss, most of the fighting was done in or around civilization, so civilians were never that far way. Much of the war in the east was done in the 100 mile stretch between Richmond and Washington - not exactly the Sahara desert population wise.

This assumes that Southern civilians had yarn in their homes or could get it. And I don't agree that it was nearly as readily available to Southern civilians as Northern ones. First of all, people who were raising sheep were selling much of it to the Government for blankets, uniforms and the Government's sock factories (there was a large one in Columbia, SC). If you get a chance to go cruise through Miss Vicki Betts' newspaper research site, she has included a whole section on "Socks, and other knitted items" as well as a second one on "yarn, thread and spinning." Those newspaper articles paint a very different picture of the access that Southern civilians had to yarn or spun cotton.

But wasn't the South the great cotton producing area of the world in our period? Didn't all those cotton plantations have bales of the stuff handy? Why not use that to make yarn for knitting?

The mechanized spinning mills in the South were running 24/7 producing yarn for the Governement. Civilians often had to hand spin whatever fiber they could get their hands on, whether cotton or wool. In order to spin a fiber, first you have to either comb it or card it, so that the fibers are aligned in a particular way to enable them to be spun. Then you have to spin it. By the time of the Civil War, most parts of the country had stopped doing this -- the cotton mills in New England could produce yarn and thread at such cheap prices that it was more economical to buy thread and yarn rather than to hand card and hand spin it. The time that would have been spent spinning could now be spent on other things.

In order to get two-ply yarn (which is what you would use for socks, for example), it is necessary to a) sheer the sheep; b) wash the fleece (there's a stinky, dirty job -- sheep don't bathe, and fleece is great at snagging on any vegitation at all. They also have dingleberries and I suspect that some of them, like dogs, like to roll in poop. Once the fleece is clean and dry, you have to card or comb all the wool; spin it in one long thread. When you've got enough of one thread (a "ply"), double it and spin two of those threads into one thread (hence "two ply"). The more plies, the stronger the yarn, though there does come a point of diminishing return between how bulky the yarn is getting and how many plies it has. Well made socks are knit with two, three or four ply yarn. Single ply is simply too weak and will quickly wear through. In order to spin wool thin enough that you can double it and still have a product that is thin enough for socks (or triple it and have a product that is thin enough for socks), you've got to have a certain amount of skill in spinning. There are many accounts in "Mothers of Invention" (Drew Gilpin Faust), "Women of the Civil War" (Mary Elizabeth Massey) and other sources that most Southern women had to learn how to spin. Some of the older slaves in more remote plantations still knew, but most places had long since stored their spinning wheels and hand looms (if they still had them and had someone who knew how to use them). The vast majority of farmers and plantation owners were relying on store-bought cloth and yarn.

Going back to the carding issue -- it quickly became clear that there was a shortage of wool or cotton cards -- these are pairs of paddles that have wire mesh teeth on the paddle. You put fleece or raw cotton on one paddle, then mesh the two paddles together and pull each in the opposite direction, dragging the fibers into alignment in the process. If the fiber isn't cleaned very well ahead of time, sticks, brambles, bits of vegitation that the sheep rolled in get stuck in the teeth of the comb and can break the teeth off. There are accounts that servants would carelessly use the combs, and they would be broken in the process. The South had very few carding mills or factories that could produce the cotton or wool cards. In order to keep the person who is spinning supplied with enough fiber ready to spin, you've got to have one or more people carding on a regular basis.

Granted, the area where the war was fought was mostly in settled areas, but the shortage of cards got worse and worse as the war went on, so that fewer and fewer civilians were even able to produce or buy yarn, let alone ship it to soldiers. Compounding this difficulty was the breakdown in the transportation system -- you couldn't ship things to the army if the railroad wasn't running in your area, or wasn't running in their area. As the war went on, what transport there was was reserved for military transport, so even if you got the materials and spun the yarn, chances were excellent it would get thrown off the train at some point before it got to your soldier.

If you were a Federal soldier, and you knew where to look and had the opportunity, you might be able to "forage" yarn from civilians. But I've not heard a lot of stories of Confederate soldiers seizing wool yarn or cotton yarn in this way. Civilains were your lifeblood, and my understanding is that if you were stealing from civilians, and you were Confederate, you had better chances of having consequences. Certainly there were organized details sent out to rural areas to requisition particular resources the armies needed -- notably horses, other livestock and foodstuffs. But I've not heard many stories of soldiers requesting, buying or being given yarn by civilians.

And after the first time that one or more armies swept the neighborhood, most civilians would have learned that anything they wanted to keep they'd better hide or put under strong guard. If you lived in central or eastern Virginia, I bet by 1864 the pickings were getting mighty slim.

You wrote:
And Karin dear lady, you would not want to see me knitting, it would not be pretty.

Perhaps it was so common that no one would have remarked on it, so we don't have any records of it. As a knitter, I really like the vision of the armies contentedly knitting around the fire in the evenings. A good pipe, some stories or jokes, maybe someone playing the bones or everyone singing as they finished off a toe or rounded a heel.

But in my opinion it wasn't very common, primarily because of the difficulties of getting something to knit.

My two cents, your milage may vary,
Karin Timour
Period Knitting, Socks, Sleeping Hats, Balaclavas
Atlantic Guard Soldiers' Aid Society
Email: Ktimour@aol.com

Spinster
10-21-2006, 11:25 PM
And after the first time that one or more armies swept the neighborhood, most civilians would have learned that anything they wanted to keep they'd better hide or put under strong guard. If you lived in central or eastern Virginia, I bet by 1864 the pickings were getting mighty slim.



And not just up around Virginia---late war, as wagons transported machine spun yarns from the precious few remaining mills around Dalton and Marietta to the Atlanta railhead for military use, there are documented complaints by teamsters who were being held up by local women at gun point---for machine spun yarn which they could not obtain otherwise to cloth their families.

This, in land prime for both cotton and sheep.

Somehow, I don't think these gals were sitting around eating bon bons and figuring out how to rob wagons rather than make yarn, if the means of production were easily available, or if it could be purchased at any store, or if they had a stash like I have in the attic.


And, the amount of time consumed by carding (if one could actually obtain cards) cannot be overestimated. Rule of thumb on wool preparation---it takes 7 folks working to keep one wheel spinner busy--this includes shearing, flicking, combing, and carding, but does not include dyeing or washing.

My skill level is pretty comparable to that of a farming class woman my age at the start of the war--someone who learned to spin as a child, but may not have used that skill for the last 30 years. Rather like riding a bicycle, spinning is accomplished by 'muscle memory'---so I'm reasonably good, but not whiz bang at production.

If I apply myself, have clean, well carded wool, and do nothing but spin from first light to last, for 2 days, I'll have enough yarn spun and plyed for an 8 ounce pair of men's stockings. My Daughter, who is much more proficient, and who learned as a young teen, can cut a half day off that time.

And then we've still got to knit them.

And, while a lot of army life is hurry up and wait, I can't see there being quite this much time and materials available to the common soldier.