Centenary Stitches Exhibition, London.

Monday 4th January 2016 was spent installing the Centenary Stitches exhibition at The National Archives in London.

Here are some pictures of the team setting it up:



L to R: Jessamy Carlson, Heather Crowder, Ali Shepley, Alison, Pauline Loven, Kate Loven, Alison Hinkley and Peter Halse. Thank you so much to our team for all their hard work!

Here is a sneak preview of the exhibition – we even recreated part of the set we filmed in for ‘William’s Story, the follow-up drama-documentary!

The WW1 bunker we filmed William’s Story in.
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The recreated bunks on location (photo Jeff James).
A sample of the displays of WW1 knitting that was so carefully recreated for the film.

The exhibition is open from now until March 19th.

The Battle of Loos Memorial

I am very glad to say that the costume and knitting created for ‘Tell Them of Us’ and the ‘Centenary Stitches’ exhibition continue to do their work in helping to commemorate the anniversaries of the First World War.

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(c) Lincolnshire Echo, Ursula Lidbetter of the Lincolnshire Coop laying a wreath.

October 13th 2015 marked the centenary of a tragic day for Lincolnshire. More than 350 of the county’s men were killed in one hour. Almost all of the men who died on that day, have no known grave – many still lay where they fell.

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(c) Lincolnshire Echo. Actor Lewis Foley (reading a poem written by a survivor from his hospital bed), accompanied by Amy Bevan as a VAD Nurse.

We were asked to help with the memorial event by supplying costumed actors for some of the readings. Their presence helped to make the service all the more moving.

Lincolnshire Echo photograph
(c) Lincolnshire Echo. Actors: Jamie Oliver Bendy as the officer, Lewis Foley as patient (in ‘hospital blues’) and Amy Bevan as a VAD Nurse.

Crocheted ties, knitted socks (complete with their ‘Kitchener Stitch’), cardigan and waistcoat (hidden) completed their uniforms and kept our actors warm on that chilly October day. The VAD nurse’s uniform and the soldier’s hospital blues uniform were created by Pauline Loven. The officer’s uniform is a mixture of original and replica and is still covered in mud from filming in a WW1 trench last August.

Thank you to the Manor House Museum for their advice on the the appropriate badges for the 4th and 5th Battalions of the Lincolnshire Regiment and to the Museum of Lincolnshire Life for lending the officer’s cap badge.

For more photographs from the event, please visit The lincolnshire Echo.

Centenary Stitches Book Review

Here an extract from a review of Centenary Stitches by Karie Bookish:

Knitting in Wartime 

‘I rarely come across knitting books like Centenary Stitches, but I think we need to celebrate efforts like this book. I am always very, very pleased to see ambitious knitting books that seek to treat knitting as both craft and social history – and Lovick’s book certainly delivers that. The book was clearly a labour of love for the people involved with it and I applaud the tenacity behind its existence. It is not your standard knitting book and it is all the better for it.’

For the full review follow this link: Centenary Stitches, Ed. Liz Lovick – Knitting in Wartime, review by Karie Bookish

Cardigan Sheila Cunnea. Photo montage by  John Bennett
Cardigan Sheila Cunnea. Photo montage by WAG Screen

If you don’t yet have a copy of this beautiful book, click here for Liz Lovick’s shop.

Knitting for ‘Tell Them of Us’, WWI Film

‘Tell Them of Us’, WWI Film

Even before the script was written for ‘Tell them of Us’, I spent a year researching and gathering vintage resources to begin creating the costume. The film was to be set in the Lincolnshire village of Thimbleby during WW1. As I worked I became aware of just how much clothing was hand knitted during the period and realised that to only include sewn clothing would have been a distortion. Knitting clothing is more easily within the reach of lower income families than sewing clothing and we were telling the story of a small Lincolnshire village including many classes of people. Fabric had to be purchased by the yard, usually requiring three of four yards at a time. Wool can be bought by the ball, or spun from fleece, and the cost can be spread. Knitting doesn’t require expensive machinery either, just a few pairs of needles. It can also be done almost anywhere, and at any time. An experienced knitter doesn’t need much light either (most of the time).

The Crowder family 1917

During the war, knitting became a vital part of the home-front war effort, with millions of pairs of socks being knitted by women and children and sent to the front line via the Red Cross. Balaclavas, hats, mufflers, mitts, gloves, chest warmers, cholera belts (a knitted band to comfort the abdomen) and even bandages were knitted and sent to the front as well.

Will the officer

Knitted clothing also shows the changing fashions of the time, something I was keen to reflect, with a distinct move from shawls to cardigans, waistcoats and jumpers. Driven by the need to become active members of society, women had begun to abandon the wearing of corsets. This trend was accelerated by a scarcity of corsetry due to shortage of metal for their spiral wires and steel busks. However, corsets kept the body core insulated and warm, needing only a shawl to cover the shoulders to keep the chill off. Once corsets are no longer worn, cardigans, waistcoats and jumpers become vital for warmth. They are also liberating; shawls restrict the movement of the arms as they are needed to keep the shawl in place, sweaters now permit the playing of sports as well as active involvement in the workplace and factory.

Cardigan by MaryLou Egan
Cardigan by MaryLou Egan

So many times people have said of the wonderful clothes created for ‘Tell Them of Us’, ‘I would wear that’. Women’s clothing in this period becomes recognisably modern. It is part of the story I wanted to tell, so a huge thank you to the amazing team of knitters, Centenary Stitches, who helped create such a believable and accurate wardrobe for the film. A book has now been produced based on a modernisation of the vintage knitting and crochet patterns which is now available from Northern Lace Press. The film ‘Tell Them of Us’ is now available on DVD from WAG Screen Shop.

Tams by Su Bonnett
Tams by Su Bonnett and Debra Ann Ashkar

An Iconic WW1 Item

It might seem unlikely that a piece of domestic knitting could be an iconic item from the First World War, but I feel this is one.

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Knitted for the comfort and protection its owner, this glove is also designed to help them kill.

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It is a rifleman’s glove with thumb and forefinger kept free to operate the rifle and it is this combined nature, of comfort and killing, which makes the rifleman’s glove such a disturbing and iconic item.

The background to the creation of the glove is in the groundswell of homegrown support that developed during the First World War from women who supplemented the basic military uniform by knitting for the men on the front line.

Trench raiders of the 18th Kings Liverpool at Wailly, Arras April 18, 1916.
King’s Liverpool Regiment, 55th Division, at Wailly, France. IMW

Gloves, scarves, Balaclavas, sleeping helmets, wrist warmers and a great variety of other shapes and purposes were produced, parcelled and posted. These knitted items were either sent direct to soldiers by their by families or supplied through major organisations such as the Red Cross, Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild or the Regimental Comforts Fund.

The rifleman’s gloves, bottom left of centre. Knitted by Katy-Jayne Lintott.

These knitted items gradually became known as ‘comforts’. Perhaps it was as much the love with which they were knitted as the warmth they offered which comforted the men, even when they never knew who knitted them. It was like touching home. The knits also conveyed a somewhat homely look on the battalions. Indeed, Parliament was vaguely disturbed by what appeared to be a slightly subversive movement amongst the women and a criticism of the government’s ability to provide all that the soldiers needed.  It is much more likely, however, that women were simply doing all that they could to help their men survive what were at times utterly appalling conditions.

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This comment from the diary of a VAD Nurse gives some idea of how important these ‘comforts’ could be:

“What a godsend to us is the tiny, tightly packed room known as the Red Cross Stores! To convey what its comforts have meant to the maimed, bruised men they have clothed, to realise what it means to have such a supply to draw from, no human words are in any way adequate. 

“We nurses know how much the gifts and comforts are appreciated, and we would emphatically assure all the women who have associated themselves with the distaff part of war work that every garment or article made, earned from some painracked man his grateful, heartfelt, though inarticulate, thanks. Every stitch they have made meant a few minutes’ greater comfort – and correspondingly less pain – from an aching body tortured on our behalf, for our defence and our birthrights. It is in no way a far-fetched statement to say that some garments – such as pneumonia jackets and cholera belts – have prolonged a man’s life. 

“Many needlewomen have deplored and belittled their share in the war’s work; they have deprecated their efforts because these have not necessitated the donning of a uniform and the complete upheaval of their former life. If they would imagine what the comfort and warmth of their nice, smooth, home-knitted socks are to cold, chilblained feet, if they could see the men snuggling head and frost-nipped ears into their cosy Balaclavas, if they could witness – as we nurses have done – how a small jaconet-covered pillow, placed under the scapula of a man with his arm in an extension, has secured for the poor man a good night’s rest, there would be no more deprecating talk, no more half-sighing comments that ‘I don’t seem to be doing much. I’m only a Sister Susie.’ Be proud you are a ‘Sister Susie.’ You are doing some of the most valuable war service. The comfort supplying department is as necessary to the Army Medical Service as the Commissariat or the Clothing Department is to the army in the field. The fighting forces are infinitely glad of the existence of Sister Susies and their nimble fingers.” (Olive Dent)

The Rifleman’s gloves were knitted by Katy-Jayne Lintott.

The Centenary Stitches Exhibition November-December 2014

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The exhibition ‘Centenary Stitches’ was held at the The Collection, Lincoln, for four weekends across November and December. The Centenary Stitches exhibition is now closed, but was a great success. If you are interested in hosting the exhibition please get in touch.

Above: Interviews with knitters; Liz Lovick. Judith Brodnicki, Jane Lawrence, MaryLou Egan and Juniper Askew.

A book of modernised WW1 patterns for the knits, used in the film, Centenary Stitches is available from Northern Lace Press

Here is one of the comments: Having heard about this film & the knitting it inspired from several different sources I went to Lincoln & saw it on Sunday. The whole thing was fantastic – so much attention to detail by so many people & so many angles to the whole project, that all came together so effectively… I hope this exhibition & film travel to as many places as possible. Congratulations & all strength to you all!



Film and Exhibition Poster

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How I found an army of knitters!

As WAG Screen’s costumier I spent a year researching and gathering vintage resources to begin creating the costume for the film which would be set on the home front in WW1. One thing worried me though – I was aware just how much clothing was knitted during the period and I cannot knit. Knitting also takes a long time to create, but to only include sewn clothing would have been a distortion. So, one Sunday morning, I speculatively tweeted for a volunteer knitter – confident that my words would disappear into the ether.

The tweet that launched the Centenary Stitches project!
The tweet that launched the Centenary Stitches project!

But I didn’t know then the character of knitters. Within an hour I had one hundred volunteers and quickly created a Facebook group to gather them in. In no time at all there were three hundred volunteers and a Ravelry group had been created too. Knitters, as I quickly discovered, are gregarious, generous and efficient, and a management system immediately evolved led by Liz Lovick, managed by Jane Lawrence and augmented by Judith Brodnicki. Out of the group we had over had over one hundred active knitters, designers, hookers and researchers and Centenary Stitches was born.

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Letters Home from the Front

Reading Robert Crowder’s letters home written in 1917 makes one aware of the immediacy and intimacy of communications between the trenches and home. They make for poignant reading.

Robert Crowder writing home. Screen grab (c) Nick Loven.
Robert Crowder writing home. Screen grab (c) Nick Loven.

Here is a list of some of the things that Robert requests or is sent:

  • Toiletries: Lifebuoy or Wrights Coal Tar Soap,  safety razor, towel and handkerchiefs, a strong sponge bag, 2 dusters, soap, toothpaste, a few boxes of matches, soap, another towel, sponge bag and toothbrush, tin of Pomade, tooth powder, Harrison’s Pomade [a kind of Vaseline but smelt terrible, it was supposed to kill the lice].
  • Treats: Choc, rock cakes,  cakes, a tin of apple jelly, tin of black currant jelly,  a little chocolate and some cigarettes, tin of honey, jam and sweets, lemonade, cigs and chocs, lovely paste and mint, some of Eliza’s big bull-eyes, cocoa or coffee tablets or Cadbury’s coca essence
  • Perishables: Cucumber, tomatoes, butter, pork pie
  • Clothes: shirts, 2 pairs socks, vest, slippers, woollen cardigan, a pair of bed socks [knitted by his aunt]
Robert in his tent resting behind the lines. Photo (c) John Bennett
Robert in his tent resting behind the lines. Photo (c) John Bennett ‘Please excuse bad writing but we have to do it in our tents now. Will you please send one of the khaki shirts. I have had a good new one given me. The fellow was going to throw it away as he had more than he could carry, so send the other one next week. I want some socks and hope you have sent some off. I prefer woollen ones and should like you to send me two pairs a weeks or something like that as we have to be careful with our feet during all this marching.’

Here are some of the letter extracts which include references to various issues such as the cost of goods in France, the fact that they had to be able to carry all they owned when on the move and the need for a plentiful supply of socks:

‘Please send me, as soon as you can, a strong sponge bag, 2 dusters, a tin of apple jelly, tin of black currant jelly. I am sure they will travel alright in small tins, also soap, toothpaste, a little chocolate and some cigarettes, those we get here are not very good. Don’t send any clothes as we can get these washed and when I want new things will let you know.’

‘Please send as soon as you can 2 pairs socks, vest, slippers, tin of honey, jam and sweets are rather dear out here.’

‘Please do not send any clothes unless I write for them, as when we move anywhere we have to carry everything.’

‘I have just tasted the lemonade it is very good, also of course the cigs and chocs which are a great treat. It is good of you to send parcels so often.’

but do you think Mason could send me a cucumber, it would be so refreshing and I think if it was wrapped in a little damp moss it would come alright, but do as you think and now when you send parcels will you write on t e outside the contents or else it is liable to be opened.

When I get to my new abode you may send my new shirts but don’t until and as for more well I have quite as much as I can carry now. Remember a Tommy has to carry everything he possesses (is that right, it seems all s’s!!) it is not case of “carry bag, sir”. The weight which I have to carry is quite 75 lbs which is quite enough

You might post me 2 more pairs of socks now. They will follow me if you address them the same as usual but not shirts.

P.S. I am sending my hair brushes home. I have no room for them. Must use a comb for the present.

Will you ask Mother to send me a small cloth to put my knife, fork and spoon in.

Please excuse bad writing but we have to do it in our tents now. Will you please send one of the khaki shirts. I have had a good new one given me. The fellow was going to throw it away as he had more than he could carry, so send the other one next week. I want some socks and hope you have sent some off. I prefer woollen ones and should like you to send me two pairs a weeks or something like that as we have to be careful with our feet during all this marching.

Unfortunately the parcel containing the tomatoes, etc., had been smashed about badly and had a note on it saying through not packing strong enough it had to be re-addressed and packed again at the home office. All the same the cucumber were lovely and eat just as fresh as they do at home and half of the tomatoes were very good, the cake I have not tasted yet but know it will be good: the shirt is lovely material, in fact as may guess everything is a great treat, do send more cucumber and the best way to pack the tomatoes in chaff like eggs

The next you send will you put in a tin of Harrison’s Pomade and ask Will to get and send a woollen cardigan, my other is worn out and they are nice to wear cold nights

Please send no more parcels until I write again except a little choc., butter or cake and socks. No more trench articles, tea tablets, etc., only small parcels until I write again, the reason why I can’t tell you

Very many thanks for the parcel, everything was packed splendidly. The eatables were very delicious. I have had a very nice parcel from Aunt Gertie, a pair of bed socks she had knitted is a great comfort and she also enclosed some very good chocolate.

Will you send some more socks. I am not badly off but when we come out of the trenches the socks are absolutely no good

Many thanks for the parcel with the pork pie, which was splendid and I was pleased to have the socks. The cardigan is of course very warm and I shall be alright for warm things now

It is a very good idea to number the parcels but I feel sure none have been lost. The grey socks are very nice and plenty good enough.

Robert also sent things home:

‘I am enclosing a badge for Grace. It’s not the one I wanted but they were sold out of the others. If we stop I will get her another and she can pass this one on to Miss Little.’