During WWI the American Homefront went knitting mad! With the first major societal upheaval in decades, much of the population was off to war, leaving those at the Homefront feeling eager to help. It was easy for the young women remaining to learn to knit in order to participate with the comradery and group support that was a byproduct of to making articles to send off to “the boys” at war.
But be wary that you do become too far involved in your “war work”, or you could succumb to “knitting nerves!” according to a quack doctor of the day.
“Watch Out Lest You Get ‘Knitting Nerves’
‘Knitting nerves’ is what young women will catch if they knit too much, says a New York specialist and quite a few, he says, have already caught it. After knitting with great application and zeal for too great a period ‘knitting nerves’ sets in and the patient sinks rapidly.
It’s the jerky motion that does it. If young women would knit more in the way their grandmas did and try to be calm it would never happen. But knitting as they do in a constant frenzy, it upsets the systems and tears down the tissues.
The specialist who discovered ‘knitting nerves’ goes on to say that with reasonable precaution the thing can be averted. In knitting it is well to know that one should not sit bolt upright and rigid. It is also important to use the muscles that are unused at other times. If you can manage to use the muscles of the neck, for instances, all the better.
See that your motions in knitting are graceful and rhythmic. This will do away with the jerky motion that is so harmful. While knitting in a street car or at the opera you may fascinate those around you with your rhythmic knitting. Hum or sing a snatch of a song. One’s knitting will in this way be kept more rhythmic, don’t you see.
If there is one in your family who knits too much and seems exposed to knitting nerves, the wisest thing to do is to take her knitting away from her. She will probably raise an awful row, but they all get that way. Few people have any idea of how often it has been necessary to put knitters in restraint.
In a case where the knitter has actually been overcome with knitting nerves the simplest first aid treatment is the best. In only the most critical cases would it be well to thrust a towel down the knitter’s throat or sit on her head.”
January 27, 1918, in The Greenville News, Greenville South Carolina.
Oh dear. Well, if anyone takes my crafting from me, I’ll raise an awful row, too. Readers, beware!
Want to read what women had to say about this accusation? See Part 2 here.
If you’re interested in more WWI era knitting, I have compiled a “How to Knit” book from a period source that includes patterns that would have been knitted for the Red Cross. You can find it in my Etsy shop.