Knitting in Vintage Valentine’s Cards

Knitting and knitwear have long been a source and symbol of succour and comfort. Knitwear is literally woven out of generosity, domesticity, nurture, childhood and intimacy. Think of the American Red Cross knitters ‘knitting for victory’ during World War One, and the knitting co-ops which generated crucial work for women during the Great Depression.

The craft is strongly tied to maternalism and tender love. Garments are often knitted for infants or for one’s significant other (although superstitious knitters should watch out for the so-called sweater curse).

It’s not surprising then that these vintage Valentine’s cards should draw upon the imagery and language of knitting to convey the yearning and often-cheeky affection associated with the day. Knots in twine tie two hearts together, warm jumpers evoke warm feelings, and dutifully-knitted socks wait at home when lovers come in from the cold.

Although they’re on the saccharine side and sometimes problematic to modern eyes (I’m not sure that many women are sending ‘I’d like to be your little homebody’ messages these days), there’s something undeniably charming about these cards.

They all stem from a time (roughly 1900 to 1950) when knitting and femininity were more closely entwined than today (reinforced by the image of the companionable cat, with its associations with both knitting and domestic femininity). Here, the dutiful girl sits at home and winds her blossoming love for her beau into her work, just ‘Sitting and sitting and knitting and knitting and thinking of someone she likes’!

Child knitting on a card that reads 'Sitting and sitting and knitting and knitting and thinking of someone I like'

Image source
Artwork by Mabel Lucie Attwell

Valentine’s cards are notorious for obnoxious, cringe-worthy puns. This is perhaps because bad jokes disarm the audience, and make the joke-telling (and love-telling) easier — a phenomenon we all know from Christmas crackers. These last three cards are just as disastrous as cracker jokes, and somehow just as endearing.

Lace crochet yarn bomb on a tree branch

Yarn Bombing: A Soft and Subtle Comment

Over the last two years or so, I’ve discovered two new things to like, things that I can find pleasure in on a daily basis. One is a deliberate, rhythmical, methodical pleasure. The other is accidental and passing. One creates a slow, near-meditative state of being and feeling, the other a momentary jolt.

The first is my newfound passion for knitting; the second is the ‘pursuit’ of keeping an eye out for pieces of street art.

Naturally, then, ever since my artsy friends alerted me to the phenomenon, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the concept of yarn bombing. I find it appealing on so many levels, so much so that perhaps I’m prone to reading too much into the cosy street adornments that are ravelling themselves all over the city.

Aesthetically, pieces of yarn bombing can be truly delightful. They provide, like more familiar forms of street art and graffiti, splashes of colour in an often-grey cityscape. More than this, they add texture — a piece of fuzzy, touchable texture — amidst the hard, sharp surfaces of the urban.

Layers of texture are, to me, what make evolved cities like Melbourne so very interesting. Each additional physical layer adds another layer of meaning and history. In fact, texture is what makes many pleasurable things — art, domestic spaces, fashion, food — interesting, be it under the gaze or under the fingers.

But, for me at least, yarn bombing is not just about beautifying our daily environment. It’s a comment — a soft and subtle comment — on our physical environment. So much in our lives is ‘cheap and nasty’, mass-manufactured and disposable. I can’t pretend to be a great anti-consumption crusader (my apartment is furnished with just as much Ikea as it is grandmother’s hand-me-downs), but I try to keep quality and permanence in my mind. My ability to mend might be a bit wobbly, but I try to make and make do.

Of course, street art never stands for permanence; it is, by its very nature, incredibly and deliberately ephemeral. It’s all part of the ever-changing ‘palimpsest’ of the city. But, while a piece of yarn bombing will disintegrate, fade, unravel and disappear, it stands all the while as a reminder of the spirit of creating over consuming, mending over chucking out, and generosity over profit.

This is part of the great pleasure that I have found in knitting — I know that my hand-knitted jumpers will be keeping me and their (un)lucky recipients slightly too warm for as long as the seams hold. I know where they came from and what they mean. The same cannot be said of the thousands of nylon knits that pass through the shops each winter.

What better way to share this spirit than by giving over a piece of your hand-knitted work to the world at large? No doubt yarn bombing will have done its dash before long, but if you see an unfashionably bright woollen pom-pom in your street in five years’ time, it might just be a little reminder from me.