Mar 27, 2019 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
We’ve talked about the benefits of handiwork before and knitting’s soothing rhythm makes it one of the most popular ways to relax in our modern times. Turns out this hobby has a pretty interesting history. It started, like most crafts, out of necessity. Knitting articles of clothing became popular with our ancestors due to its portability. Unlike weaving, which required heavy equipment (i.e. a loom), knitting was the original grab & go. A couple needles, some yarn, and some free-time were the only necessary ingredients. The earliest knitted artifact is a pair of Egyptian socks from 11 B.C. The patterns and color selections tells us that knitting has always been a form of artistic expression!
While some Medieval paintings depict the Virgin Mary happily knitting, today I’d like to introduce you to some iconic knitters from our more-recent past. Knitting really took hold in pop culture around WWI, when the Red Cross published pamphlets with patterns and urged the public to knit goods for the military. A few years later and knitting became high-fashion, with the glorious Coco Chanel publishing patterns in Vogue magazine. All of this momentum skyrocketed during the golden age of cinema, leading us to our first iconic knitters.
Joan Crawford, legendary actress and pistol, knitted on set regularly. In addition to creating some great pieces, she used her knitting as a bit of a weapon. Rumor has it, she would loudly click her needles when running through lines with her nemesis Norma Shearer. As the two women refused to talk to each other directly, the director had to sort out these “knitting disputes.” I wonder what became of the angry afghans Joan made while filming! Bette Davis didn’t just knit in the background (nor for vengeance), she was known for bringing her knitting on-camera so she could finish up pieces. However, Bette wasn’t the only glamorous actress who had her knitting recorded for posterity – the lovely Audrey Hepburn knitted during a scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s!
Perhaps the best Hollywood “it” girl knitting story comes from the elegant Grace Kelly. While on-site in Africa to film with Clark Gable, she decided to knit some socks for him as a personalized holiday present. A lovely thought, to be sure, but she didn’t quite find the time to finish the pair. (I think we’ve all been there before – when you start a project, but find yourself rushing to make your deadline!). She described her backup plan in a 1953 interview with The Saturday Evening Post. “Each day I stole something else from him. On Christmas Eve I filled one of his socks with his own things and hung it up. It was a silly gesture, but he liked it. I am very fond of Clark.”
Leaving the bright lights of tinsel town behind, when it comes to iconic knitters, one location was home to two famous knitters – the White House. The multi-talented Eleanor Roosevelt knit during every free moment. What started as a patriotic quest to help during the war, continued as a way for her to cope with lulls in her schedule. Want to channel this amazing First Lady? Knit her exact mittens pattern here. Grace Coolidge was also a prolific White House knitter. In fact, one of her afghans can be found gracing the bed in the famous Lincoln bedroom. Just goes to show you that knitting, and other handmade goods, can become valuable historical artifacts. Whether that artifact is of national significance or if its importance is more family-focused, goods made by someone’s hands are expression from their heart. So tell me, dear readers, what handmade goods touch your heart? Do you have any iconic knitters in your family? Tell us about them in the comments…