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The Role of British Home Front Needlework during the First World War, 1914-1918

Casey, Frances (2022) The Role of British Home Front Needlework during the First World War, 1914-1918. PhD thesis, University of Essex.

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Abstract

Between 1914 and 1918, over 18.5 million knitted and sewn needlework garments were made by volunteers on the British home front and sent to front line troops by voluntary organisations, including Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild. This thesis addresses the role of home front needlework, in the form of knitting, sewing, crochet and embroidery, during the First World War. Drawing on a wide range of primary sources, including letters, reports, diaries, newspapers and magazines, knitting patterns, song, film and cartoons, this study demonstrates the way needlework formed a complex social, cultural, political, and economically significant activity during the war. Needlework was a dynamic social tool for women which enabled them to question and contest their wartime role and to advocate and express their responses to the war. The dominant historiographical view that war needlework took place in a frenzy of ‘needlework mania’ in 1914, characterised by poor production, which then died out in the later war is challenged. It is shown that voluntary needlework was always subject to various quality controls, devised by needlewomen themselves, and that distribution was the more problematic issue. Furthermore, voluntary needlework became increasingly professionalised during the war to the extent that it was fully integrated into the supply logistics of the War Office and into the home front network of charitable war work. Needlework offered agency to women and also to wounded men on the home front: it provided a political tool for women’s war employment; it formed a communication of care between the home front and the front line; while the ‘feminine’ design language of embroidery gave wounded men a means of renegotiating their masculine status. This research demonstrates that First World War needlework held a meaningful and integrated role during the war.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords: First World War; needlework; knitting; sewing; embroidery; Home Front; wounded men; women's philanthropy, women's employment, women's magazines; knitting patterns; gender; femininity; masculinity; war charities.
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D501 World War I
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities > History, Department of
Depositing User: Frances Casey
Date Deposited: 13 Jan 2022 10:16
Last Modified: 13 Jan 2022 10:16
URI: http://repository.essex.ac.uk/id/eprint/32011

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