Wartime Knitting Revived

When Christchurch City Librarian Kat Moody was looking for inspiration after taking up knitting again, her husband knew just where to look.

Simon, who happens to be the Research Curator here at the Air Force Museum, retrieved some World War Two ‘comforts’ patterns from our archives, and took some copies for her. Having seen such patterns in her time working in the archives at the RAF Museum in London, Kat always thought they’d be great to knit from, so relished the chance to recreate these suitably-functional wartime accessories.

Some of the wartime ‘comforts’ knitting patterns in the Air Force Museum of New Zealand collection.

As she set about her first project – a pair of mittens – she discovered that the 75-year old patterns weren’t too difficult to follow. The terminology hadn’t changed, although she did concede that they assumed a greater amount of prior knowledge, which meant a bit of “muddling together” was sometimes required to make the pattern come together. Another pair of mittens, some socks, a hat and a rather fun-looking ‘sports hat’ (balaclava) followed in quick succession.

Kat chronicles many of her knitting adventures on social media.

Kat says she has found the experience of knitting from vintage patterns to be very satisfying. There is a certain thrill from engaging with a museum collection in this way, to recreate something that was originally intended to be fundamentally functional, and find it equally useful in today’s world. Simon, ever the ready model for his wife’s creations, is already planning to wear the fingerless mittens when he’s out fishing.

Kat Moody with two of her completed ‘comforts’ projects, and the original patterns that she knitted them from.

From the Museum’s perspective, we’re thrilled to see our archives being used in such a creative way. Kat is literally bringing history to life by following in the footsteps of the many hundreds who used these commercially-printed patterns during World War Two. With thousands of the nation’s young men serving overseas between 1939-45, many women and children on the Home Front here in New Zealand turned to knitting as a way to support the war effort. As part of official ‘Knit for Victory’ campaigns, and with great enthusiasm and industry, they knitted hats and balaclavas, gloves and mittens, socks, scarves and pullovers for soldiers, sailors and airmen. Once knitted, comforts were packaged up in parcels also containing items such as sweets, biscuits and cakes, and sent overseas. For the men who received these parcels, they experienced not only the physical comfort of having additional warm clothing to wear with their uniforms, but also the emotional comfort of knowing that there were people back home supporting and caring for them.

Women from Air Force Relations, packing knitted comforts for airmen. Wellington, 23 July 1945.
Image ref PR7036, RNZAF Official.
Women from Air Force Relations, packing knitted comforts for airmen. Wellington, 23 July 1945.
Image ref PR7036, RNZAF Official.

On reflection, Kat feels that knitting has taught her to be “more quiet and still”, and to embrace the mindfulness that comes with concentrating on a pattern. When you add in the sense of accomplishment from completing a project and learning and developing new skills, it’s little wonder Kat is a big advocate for giving knitting a go.

If anyone is inspired by Kat’s example, you are most welcome to come and view our collection of patterns, or some of our original wartime comforts, in our public reading room. All you need to do is to make an appointment with our Research Team – you can find more information on how to do that here.