Thursday, January 12, 2012

WWI Red Cross Sleeveless Sweater


WASHINGTON, September 22- [1917]
Here's how to knit a sleeveless sweater for a soldier, according to official Red Cross instructions:

Get two and a half hanks of yarn.
Also one pair of Red Cross needles No. 3.

Cast on 80 stitches.
Knit 2, purl 2 stitches for 4 inches.
Knit plain until sweater measures 25 inches.
Knit 28 stitches, bind off 24 stitches for neck, loose.
Knit 28 stitches.
Knit 7 ridges on each shoulder, cast on 24 stitches.
Knit plain for 21 inches.
Purl 2, knit 2 stitches for 4 inches.
Sew up sides, leaving 9 inches for armholes.

Now if you are still interested in going further with the war knitting brigade, go to your local Red Cross chapter and ask for one of the official knitting circulars.

Five hundred thousand of these circulars have been sent to local chapters everywhere by the Red Cross.

Each contains full information on how to knit the wight standardized articles: Sleeveless sweaters, mufflers, helmets, socks, wristlets, wash cloths, bed socks and bottle covers.

Recent cables from Major Murphy, Red Cross commissioner with the American boys in France, emphasized the need for the warm knitted articles for the soldiers who face the hardships of winter in the trenches.

Army officers request that these articles be forwarded to France as soon as possible. The severity of winter on the battlefields and a rising tuberculosis rate to combat the demand, they warn, that several million of these articles reach France before Thanksgiving.
Socks, [unreadable word] knitters are warned that knots ridges or lumps must be avoided, as they blister the feet.

-Berkeley Daily Gazette, September 22, 1917

Note: I have altered the original typesetting for readability.

A Little Modern Help From Morgan:

There was no illustration or schematic in this newspaper article, but basically this is a sweater knitted flat, in one piece. Today, North Americans would call it a vest.

"Get two hanks of yarn" is kind of hilarious, but remember that the Red Cross had depots in most cities providing official yarn to be used with their official patterns.
If you were to chose a modern Double Knitting or Worsted Weight yarn, these are the sizes you could achieve.
At 5 stitches to the inch the sweater would measure 32" at the chest.
At 4.5 stitches to the inch the sweater would measure 35" at the chest.
At 4 stitches to the inch the sweater would measure 40" at the chest.

There is a reason why the Red Cross did not provide gauge or desired sizes.
They had discovered, in wars passed, that there was no point!
They found that one set of instructions and materials could provide many different results, and conveniently, a bevy of sizes!

The sweater is knit in garter stitch with a ribbed waist. It is knit from the front (or back, I suppose) upwards, to a neck created by casting off the centre 24 stitches.
Two shoulders will be worked either side of this cast off, so new yarn will have to be attached to work the first shoulder (the shoulder located at the beginning of the neck cast off row).
Work one shoulder, and once the 7 ridges are knit ('ridges' refers to the effect created by 2 rows of plain knit in garter stitch) you will place those 28 stitches on waste yarn or a holder.
The casting on of 24 stitches replaces the centre 24 stitches cast off, connects the two shoulders, and creates the neck of the sweater.

The remainder of the pattern echos the beginning of the pattern, as you work the 2nd side from the neck down to the waist, ending the project with the second half of the waist ribbing.
I would suggest using a mattress stitch to sew the sides of the sweater together seamlessly, remembering to end the stitching at the desired underarm location (9" from the shoulder if you are sending this to the 1917 Red Cross!)

Let me know how it goes!


Michelle said...

I wish there were a picture :(
Have you knit it?

Morgan said...

I have not knit this and to be honest, I don't think I will. I don't know anyone to knit it for.
I did think it was a fun pattern to share because of the gauge-less instructions.
That procedure is a neat bit of knitting history.

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