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’!
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.