And so the days are filled...

16 September 2005

Momentary history commentary

I have no news to report on the knitting front but I feel bad leaving you, dear reader, all weekend without a post to mull over. To mark today being the big gala kickoff for the annual NSW History Council's History Week, here I will present a short essay in NSW State Library catalog entries for the subject heading of 'knitting'. Surprisingly, when one searches the NSW State Library pictures catalogue on-line, there are only 16 items that come up for knitting (but close examination reveals that at least the cataloguers have not randomly stuck in some crocheting for good measure.) Not surprisingly, most of these entries have to do with women (and some men) knitting socks for WWI soldiers. Does anyone know if there was such a big sock-knitting effort for WWII??? Funny, you don't hear about that as much, do you. Just goes to show what a little industrialisation and machinisation can result in over a few decades.
I enjoyed the following three catalogue entries as a group.

Now, because I'm the daughter of a librarian and worried about copyright, I'm not reproducing the first image as a full-size photo, I'm just giving you the catalogue entry. If you want to see the image all big and in detail, you can click here. (It'll even open in a new window for you.) (In this way, I hope to promote the use of my very favourite cultural institution, the Library.)

What I love about this image is that you can see the photographer in the foreground arranging a self portrait with knitting friends by taking a photo in the mirror. Has ramifications for modern-day knitblog photography, yes? Look at the size of that camera. I love that it is a woman portraying her own group of women - they're not staged or arranged. If you look at the other 15 catalogue entries for knitting, what you will see are mostly posed photos of women knitting. Because the photographer is including herself and her method of capturing the image in the photograph, I think it is much more personal and therefore more revealing.

What are they knitting? On first glance, it appears the two ladies on the left are working on socks. There are definitely dpn's in use on the far left. One thing that puzzles me is what the centre two women are working on. Far too much knitting to be socks - maybe beanies? (Dear international reader, that means woollen cap, or toboggan if you're from where I'm from and you like just assigning new meanings to words which already have a perfectly acceptable meaning to the rest of the world.) But on closer inspection, perhaps they are each working on a sleeve each for a jumper ??? (Dear North American reader, that means sweater in your language.)

Another interesting thing to note about this image is its inscription: "A souvenir of today at Cudgewa [VIC] 25.10.16" - It makes me think this gathering for knitting, perhaps a more mournful, given the circumstances, version of modern day Stitch n Bitch. The cataloguer has then [gratuitously?] added "It looks something like a Red Cross meeting, but it's just the normal state of patriotic girls during the Great War." Now come on. Women can get together and knit whenever and where ever they berloody well like! They don't have to be at a Red Cross meeting. Anyway, the reference to the Great War makes me think the cataloguer was writing at a time before or just after WWII, and he sounds a bit like a knitting widower himself ('just the normal state of patriotic girls') so I'll cut him a bit of slack.

Now we come to catalogue entry two. I cannot show you this image because it is definitely in copyright and, as the library tells me, can only be viewed (in person) at the library. However the catalogue entry (here is the full record) alone gives me a tantalising idea of what the image contains: "Two women knitting at the clothing trades protest meeting in Sydney Town Hall", 1955.
Whoa! This is radical! I'm not joking! It is 1955 - the days when any trade union was a Communist threat, a time when women were gaining independence and demanding equal treatment in the work force, AND to me it sounds like they were protesting what we would nowadays call a sweatshop. It is really such a bold move for two women to whip out their needles and show that they are skilled workers who will not be driving out of the workforce or into poverty by a machine!! (Bluegrass fans will know of John Henry. These women are the John Henry's of the Australian clothing industry. At least I think so, I should really see the actual image first before leaping to this conclusion.)

And third image - well catalogue entry (this one's copyright too): Here is the full record.
Knitting mills at Concord and Smithfield (Sydney suburbs), photographed in 1998. I think these are one-man (yes, man) cottage industry workers operating knitting machines. A Transylvanian man working from his garage so that fashion label Sonya can be more 'responsive to the changing fashion market'. This is where mass knitted fashion comes from nowadays. Strange to think of it, especially in light of the previous two entries. In fact I've just about run out of steam...

Something for you to mull over as you knit away at your craft over the weekend.