I find almost any work commonly associated with women enthralling. If I spy a book about knitting, for example, I’ll latch onto it regardless of authorship or age or whether it has garnered positive or “so-so” reviews.
I’ve seldom been disappointed. The excitement for me, in this case, stems from developing technical expertise as well as uncovering information about women’s roles regardless of time or place. Based on the numbers of clubs that were active and classes that were offered, knitting appears to have had wide appeal for women and girls of various circumstances during the first half of the twentieth century.
Its appeal increased even more during the war years when women routinely provided handmade garments for soldiers. During World War I, for example, members of Pittsburgh’s Red Cross Chapter were commended for the quality of socks, sweaters, shawls, ambulance covers and other items they had knitted for use by the military in the United States and abroad. And, Florence Smith Pittman, a World War II counterpart and head of the colored knitters group in Altoona knit the first sweater shipped to Europe during that conflict by a volunteer group (Per Pittsburgh Courier, 12/2/39).
The library offers books, magazines, and dvds on various aspects of knitting and other handicrafts. If you’re interested in the classics, check out anything by Elizabeth Zimmermann—her work is available via books or DVDs; for patterns, Barbara Walker’s series is inspirational. The multi-volume Weldon’s Practical Needlework, a reproduction of 18th-century newsletters providing instructions for knitting and other needlework offers technical information in a historical context, while A History of Hand Knitting by Richard Rutt and No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting by Anne McDonald focus on social and cultural matters. In addition, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh offers hands-on knitting sessions at 4:30 pm on the first and third Wednesdays of each month.