With the arrival of the World Wars, and people keen to do their patriotic duty, knitting gained favour. The troops and refugees needed socks and gloves – and many people took up their needles to help. And as the popularity of sheet music also grew, so too came the knitting songs: from romantic to humorous, they are as varied as the knitters themselves.
From the early 1900s when “only respectable women knit” to the modern-day activism of yarn bombing, knitting has seen many changes. No more does the Carnegie Hall fell the need to display signs asking the audience “please do not knit too loudly as you’ll disturb the percussion”! During this show knitting is encouraged, and crochet is permitted, but don’t worry if you are not crafty – these songs also provide a fascinating and unique piece of social history.
Melanie Gall’s stunning voice is a treat, and she bubbles over with enthusiasm and knowledge that is simply infectious. Her hard work in collecting all these songs reward the audience not only with great music, but wit fascinating tales and tidbits surrounding knitting at the time. Stories include the famous Lord Kitchener’s brief foray into sock knitting, a sweet old lady sitting knitting at a station – encoding the passing trains into the knitting of her scarf for the Belgian resistance – and an embargo on sending knitting patterns because no-one could understand well enough to censor them. We don't often hear about these aspects of war, and the stories highlight people’s ingenuity and desire to make a practical difference; they are told well, with such warmth.
The songs range from patriotic anthems to soppy love ballads, and even one to give hope to everyone whose mittens have not ended up hand-shaped. Gall strikes an excellent balance in the tone of songs she sings, evoking both sadness and laughter. There are sweet songs that talk about knitting a jumper, sizing it on the memory of a last embrace with the man, to funny ones about a father whose pants are propped up with a pin… because, with his wife distracted knitting, there is clearly no one who could sew a button on!
It is clear that there is so much more information, so many more songs and stories than could possibly fit into the hour, and the show does feel rather rushed in some places. Equally, it can feel a little underprepared, as the decisions about what to include and what to miss out are often seem to be done on the fly. The material is so enthusiastically presented I’ve no doubt the audience would be quite happy for the show to go on for twice as long.
This unique show provides a fascinating insight into a little-looked-at side of history. It brings together Gall's stunning vocal talents with her bubbly personality and knowledge, in a show that will make you laugh, make you mourn, make you proud of historical knitting rebels and maybe make you pick up your needles again.