Knitting Traditions: Unexpected Connections

Heatherly Walker's Remembrance Socks contain stars hidden among winding cables, proclaiming a powerful statement. (Photograph by Joe Coca)

As a history buff, I eat up knitting lore. A new issue of PieceWork's Knitting Traditions is out, and it's so good, I truly didn't know where to start. I'm a World War II buff, so an article called "The Sock Knitters of Sobibor," by Heatherly Walker, really spoke to me.

Sobibor was a Nazi camp in German-occupied Poland, and some of the inmates of Sobibor were knitters; many were just teenagers. Their job was to sort through victims' clothing, salvaging sweaters and other woolen garments to ravel and knit into socks, gloves, and sweaters for the camp guards. This job saved their lives. Knitting in a death camp is really unexpected—can you imagine?

Here's editor Jeane Hutchins to tell you about all of the other riches in Knitting Traditions:

Anna Zilboorg's shapely, stylish vest is a attering rendition of the classic English riding vest with its tailored t and ared inserts at the hips. The allover Aran stitch pattern is one of the designer's favorites and is shown perfectly in a luscious wool/silk blend. (Photograph by Joe Coca)
Knit your way into history with these beautiful Groenlo Mittens. The blue diamonds in the pattern represent the canals around the Groenlo city walls while the star represents the shape of the walls themselves. (Photograph by Joe Coca)

This sixth edition of PieceWork's Knitting Traditions is all about intersections and unexpected connections. Those familiar with Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Agnes Grey know that the Brontë sisters sprinkled references to knitting throughout their novels. What came as a surprise to me was the sisters' probable intersection with one of mid-nineteenth-century England's most popular authors of knitting manuals, Elizabeth Jackson. Discover the details in Penelope Hemingway's "Knitting and the Brontës."

Family connections abound. Finding handknits created by an ancestor and passed down from generation to generation prompted several authors to explore their genealogy and bring family treasures to the forefront. Darlene Watson's "My Grandfather's Stockings" is an example.

For years, I have been a fan of master knitter Anna Zilboorg. On a chilly day last December, our paths finally crossed when Anna came to Loveland for the production of her recently released DVD, Knit Free-Sole Socks: Handknit Socks to Last a Lifetime (an Interweave Knits Workshop in collaboration with PieceWork). Over an extended lunch (sorry, video crew!), we discussed knitting and its history. The Italian fried donuts with powdered sugar and milk-stout caramel and raspberry sauce just made the conversation that much sweeter. Anna's project for this issue is her flattering rendition of the classic English riding vest ("An Aran-Stitch Vest" with her signature "Perfect Buttonholes."). Thank you, Anna. The knitted vest is beautiful.

Thanks also to the men who formed the Groenlo Mitten Society in the Netherlands expressly to save the traditional Groenlo Mitten pattern. Bianca Boonstra discovered the organization and charted the pattern from a photograph sent her by a group member ("Almost Lost: The Pattern for Groenlo Mittens.").

Then there is the intersection of good and evil. The good were knitters; the evil, *** during World War II (1939–1945). In "The Sock Knitters of Sobibor," Heatherly Walker tells how a few women and girls escaped certain death in Sobibor's gas chamber because they knew how to knit-two, Esther Raab and Regina Zielinski, are still alive. The knitters and the story remind us of the power of knitting.

Beads and buttons add a whimsical touch to ordinary knitting needles. These examples are just some of numerous varieties in Galina A. Khmeleva's collection. (Photograph by Joe Coca)

Knitting's spellbinding history continues here. Download your issue of Knitting Traditions today and immerse yourself in the tradition! If you'd rather have the printed edition, pre-order yours so you get it in the mail as soon as it's printed!

P.S. Does your family have a knitting tradition? Share it with us in the comments!

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