A new book features a century of photos of people picking up yarn and a pair of needles and getting their knit on.
These days, knitting is, for many, a hobby: We do it to create art, help us relax, and even to explain complex mathematical concepts. Historical knitting, however, was more practical—people knit to clothe themselves or help the troops rather than to relieve stress (although it might have helped there, too). In her new book People Knitting: A Century of Photographs, Barbara Levine has collected more than 100 wonderful images of people from around the world—everyone from cab drivers to nurses to movie stars to First Ladies—knitting for work and for fun. "At the simplest level, the images in this book ... are delightful vintage portraits we can enjoy for their individual charm," she writes in the introduction. "But they reward on another level, too, for they often contain a hint about what the act of knitting has meant personally and culturally at different points in history." Below are a few of mental_floss's favorite photos from Levine's book, accompanied by their captions.
1. "Ambrotype, ca. 1860, of a married couple. The wife is pictured with her knitting to show she is a woman of character and virtue."
2. "Halloween reveler costumed as a little old lady with her knitting, ca. 1915"
3. "Vaudeville performer Frances White, ca. 1915, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division."
4. "Men’s knitting group, Florida, ca. 1918"
5. "Photograph by J. Peterson, ca. 1939, Shetland Museum and Archives."
6. "Knitting for the forces at the beauty salon, London, 1940. On verso is written: 'The English women, seen here knitting for the soldiers, do not waste time even while having their hair dried. The pieces of knitting on which they are working are provided by the beauty parlor, and each customer is asked to do her bit for ‘the boys.’ She picks up where the previous person left off, and if it is a hard one to do she finds directions attached.'"
7. "First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt knits while attending 'We’re in the Army Now,' a conference held at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, 1941."
8. "A German or Italian merchant seaman knitting a sleeve at the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s detention station at Fort Lincoln, North Dakota, where sailors from impounded ships were interned early in World War II. Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library."
9. "Girls engaged in knitting and making toy animals in the handicraft class of the St. Simon’s Youth Center of the National Youth Administration, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1941. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division."
10. "Maintenance man between furnace-checking chores knits for the baby his wife is expecting, 1951. On verso is noted that he 'took up knitting five years ago for relaxation on advice of his doctor, and he’s since become an expert.'"
People Knitting: A Century of Photographs is available now. Pick up your copy here.