Thursday, March 12, 2009

Touching History

I'm having a well-deserved lazy morning this morning, sipping on some delicious chocolate coffee while flipping through the March/April 2009 issue of PieceWork magazine (an awesome, awesome magazine which I highly recommend for all fiber enthusiasts!) ...

This issue of PieceWork is based upon"Textiles for Historical Reenactment," for the Civil War era. I have always thought that when a war is waged it is not fought by the soldier alone; the soldier's family and community are also involved because not only must they pick up where the soldier left off (in caring for the family/home/work), but they also rally together to send care packages of items sorely needed -- like socks!

When I took my children to visit Putnam Park in 2007, we learned every family, during the American Revolutionary War period, was "taxed" to create a certain amount of wool, or weaving to help keep the Revolutionary War soldiers clothed. (The amount of the "wool" tax depended upon the number of people living in the family.) Children were often pressed into service, and items such as the Spinning Jenny (Dee Jr. is pictured on left showing how the wheel was placed low so young children could contribute to the effort) were invented to help meet the demand.

In 2005 I mentioned how my own local neighborhood was part of the Civil War effort, discovering in the official Putnam County Government Records that "Although small, Putnam County played a significant role in the Civil War. ... Declining sheep farming received a boost by a renewed demand for woolen clothing when southern cotton was unavailable."

Getting back to the current issue of PieceWork, I learned most Civil War soldiers were issued four pairs of machine made socks; these were poorly made and thus "Sock Societies" sprouted up both in the South and the North, and children, "boys as well as girls ...[were encouraged] to knit without looking at their work." The article goes on to explain that wool was in short supply in the South so the Sock Societies would use cotton. Cotton socks were "often wet and hard to march on." Northern soldiers had plenty of wool socks, reportedly receiving 80,332 hand knitted socks in two months to the Federal Army of the Potomac. With information like this, I wonder: Would history be different if Southern soldiers had a steady supply of wool socks too? (Naturally I do believe this type of information SHOULD be passed along in history classes, although there are those that argue it shouldn't.)

Ah, but as I drift off on this tangent and see my cup of chocolate coffee running low, I want to mention the best part of this month's PieceWork magazine ... there is an article on Civil War-Era Sontags ... a sort of shawl that wrapped and secured around the body for extra warmth and ease of arm movement. The article states it fell out of fashion somewhere in the 1860's, and I suspect one of the reasons is because the wool was being used for soldiers socks, slippers and gloves. -- Ah, but here's the cool whip for your slice of American Apple Pie: "There is ample photographic evidence to show ... crochet ... was used." So, Civil War reenactors and history buffs, pick up your crochet hooks and know you are touching history with each stitch you make today!

Are crocheters and knitters helping make a difference in today's wars and scrimmages? One nearly needs to surf the internet to find a "Sock Society" (making everything from helmet liners to afghans).

On a personal note: my brother-in-law safely returned home from the Navy in December; it was the greatest Christmas Gift one could ask for. Last week I learned one of my cousins, four years after fulfilling his obligation, was recalled to return to the Army. I will be looking into what his unit will be needing.

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