Thursday, November 10, 2011

Civil War Sock Knitters

I recently listened to an interesting podcast from public radio.  Walter Edgar is a professor of history at the University of South Carolina and  he has a public radio program on all topics South Carolina.  

We all recall Mary Chesnut from Ken Burns' Civil War series on PBS from 1990, right?  And Mary's diaries were often quoted;  Julie Harris read the quotes.  Mary was a South Carolina blue blood. She was the wife of General James Chesnut, an  aide to Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Several different annotated versions of her diaries are available at AmazonHere is a nice synopsis of Mary's life and writings from Elisabeth Showalter Muhlenfeld, her biographer.  Dr. Muhlenfeld also edited and published two of Mary's unfinished novels.

On the particular podcast I listened to, Dr. Edgar (we treat him with great reverence down here) was interviewing Julia A. Stern, author of Mary Chesnut's Civil War Epic.  She is a scholar from Northwestern University who has published a book, which considers Mary's so-called diary to be more of a nonfictional epic.  This she helped to realize by examining earlier less simplified versions of Mary's complex work, and delving in to its details.

To add to my interest, in a more recent podcast, Dr. Edgar interviewed a descendent of Mary Chesnut, Martha Daniels.  Apparently Mary had a vast collection of photographs.  At some point, the photographs were separated from her diaries. Amazingly, the photographs were located (on ebay!!) and purchased by Martha's family.  The description in the podcast of Martha's Grandmother recognizing unlabelled individuals in the photos brought tears to my eyes.  The photographic collection is donated to the South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina, and a new edition of the diaries combined with the photographic images will soon be published.

Here is the SCETV link to Walter Edgar's Journal Podcast;  scroll down and you can listen to these two podcasts, or locate them on itunes!

Well and yes, of course, Mary was a sock knitter.   The more I read about knitting, the more I realize that small garments:  hats, mittens, and socks are the items often knitted through history, as larger garments are perhaps more easily made of woven fabric. Marys quote: " I do not know when I have seen a woman without knitting in her hand. 'Socks for the soldiers' is the cry."

Here is a link for an authentic pair of Civil War socks, suitable nowadays for reinactors!  More discussion is here.  I am trying this pattern using some Guernsey wool that I have had in stash for waaaaay too long;  see the photo, above, of the one I am working on.  I will avoid second sock syndrome as it is a holiday gift!  My gauge is a little larger than that called for.

Yahoo's Civil War Needleworker's Group has a collection of sock patterns as well, but you must be a group member to join (that's easy, however).

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