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To Market, To Market

Page history last edited by esonnenschein 14 years, 2 months ago




Women's magazines have long been overlooked as a historical source describing the everyday lives of women. This form of periodical has long be considered as disposable and historically insignificant (Spigel 5). On the contrary these magazines provide a rich context of social and domestic content.  The same is true of knitting magazines, if not more so.  Geared to a specific market, libraries did not keep copies of these magazines in their databases.  The only copies I had access to were borrowed or purchased through eBay. Using the same techniques as R. Gordon Kelly who described using children's literature, as historical evidence to describe a certain culture in American society. In the essay "Literature and the Historian", he examines the children's literature of the gentry class in the early 1800's to define the societal socialization of this particular group (Kelly 91). Using the knitting magazines of the post war era one can view the socializing effects of geared towards women during this time period. 



Preview..knitting for the war 





Knitting was seen as patriotic and large numbers of women and children learned to knit during World War II, and because of the massive mobilization of manufacturing during the war, many yarn manufactures were expecting a post war boom.  One outcome of women working during the war is an increase of "do it yourself". Before the war, when most women shopped there were sales clerks to retrieve items for the customers. The postwar era shows an increase in the confidence women do choose items for themselves.  "Many stores shifted toward self-service and encouraged knitters touch and select their own supplies"(Strawn 165).


The war years saw American factories increase production capabilities to meet the demand for the military. Postwar knitting manufactures shifted production to civilian needs, spurred by the demand for yarn for personal use. With this increase in production came the phenomenon of the industry driven craft. Prior to WWII, suppliers responded to the demands of the crafter.  Most knitting patterns were had either been passed down through generations or designed by the knitter as they went. The Post-war knitting industry provided knitting patterns in the form of books, magazines, newspapers, and yarn manufactures supplied patterns. This increased volume of goods leads to an increase in yarn companies publishing pattern books to coordinate with the new variety of yarns produced. 


Specifically examining three distinct knitting periodicals, The WorkBasket, McCall's Needlecrafts, and Vogue Knitting. Studying these magazines and their perception of the American woman in the postwar years gives clues to the role of knitting in women's lives.


The WorkBasket, a monthly periodical which retailed for 15 cents, was devoted to "Home and Needlecraft for Pleasure and Profit". It regularly supplied working class women with "Ideas for the Bazaar, Home, Gifts, Spare-time Money Makers, with Many Articles, Easily Made and Inexpensive, that Find a Ready Sale.  Full of helpful tips, advertisements and a classified ad section, giving women ideas to earn extra cash.  This periodical was the only one out of the three which was printed in the midwest.  The editors of this periodical geared it's information to the real life situations of the women for whom they were writing.  It addressed real life money making issues this group faced.  Advertisements claimed, "Make big money at home..."Raise Parakeets!!!", "It's Profitable to Make and Sell Hats!", or "Be a Nurse" (WorkBasket)  Still, the emphasis of the type of employment never strays outside the roles traditionally seen for women.


McCall's and Vogue Knitting both catered to the vision of an upscale clientele.  The photography shows an upscale fantasy lifestyle with yarn companies placing large glossy ads promoting this ideal of knitting (working) your way to a more affluent you.  Models are posed in a variety of gentry upscale environments, country backgrounds, exotic European destinations, world class museums, and airline travel.  "An upscale patten book from James Lees & Sons, Minerva Fashions in Hand Knits, featured twelve elegant suits and dresses hand-knit in Minerva yarns and photographed against a background of masterpieces at New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art." (Strawn 161). This ideal of the upscale affordability was common in women's magazines of the post war era, Lynn Spigel's book, Make Room for TV, uses them as a source for historical evidence.  She state's, "Although the magazines addressed their public as white middle-class consumers, the actual readers were no doubt more heterogeneous in nature...Many postwar Americans fancied themselves in the growing ranks of middle-class consumers...(and) women's magazines contributed to this sense of class rise by presenting an upscale fantasy lifestyle to which their readers might aspire.  But most women who read these magazines did not enjoy the degree of wealth presented in the editorial copy and advertisements" (Spigel 5).



       Teens and Tweens


Another emerging market yarn manufactures were quick to identify were the newly affluent teen and even the as yet unnamed tween markets. Postwar prosperity combined with the isolation of the suburbs trickled down to the teen-age girls as babysitters. These young girls, who had also witnessed their mothers working during the war, were flush with independent cash and were eager and willing to spend it. Knitting patten books were published such as, Teen-age Togs and Gay Teen Ideas, with patterns for sweaters, socks, and shorts with matching tops. Copy was written to appeal to the teens vocabulary. 




Tweens were enticed into knitting with a book by McCalls's for beginners with a variety of easy patterns for a young girl to make clothes for her Barbie.



Society embraced these knitting teens as an acceptable outlet for their extra time and energies and encouraging them to knit  "matching his and hers sweaters", reinforcing the idea of appropriate heterosexual lifestyles for the young girls to aspire to.  Messages for strategies to capture that guy ranged from "Knit him a pair of socks with the BOLD LOOK and watch him zoom with pride", "Knock his socks off", "Rate tops with the man in your life", "Knit for Him", and "Impress the Man in your life and you'll be the smartest Gal he knows!"(Macdonald 313).  Smart being acceptable only in terms of catching a man or able to knit a complicated pattern.  Knitting was synonymous with home and motherhood and the knitting industry eagerly embraced women's return to domestic bliss with the battle cry of, "Knit for the MAN in your life".  



Knitting publications marched in step with the other women's magazines of the period.  "Women's magazines hewed strictly to (the) party line...for women (and girls) to retreat to the home.  They admonished in voices of tradition...that (women) could consummate their greatest destiny through glorification of their femininity...ever frivolous...ever young...ever slim...ever charming...ever serving the needs of their men and children" (Macdonald 324). In survival of the doldrums Rupp confirms the attitude of the media of this time, "The media played a major role in perpetuating the social climate and....portrayed women as happy housewives whose lives centered around their homes and families. This...served to deny that women, as a group, had grievances"(Rupp 18).

Unfortunately, as many would find, home was not what it was cracked up to be.




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Comments (2)

Stacy Takacs said

at 3:05 pm on Feb 5, 2010

Love the new stuff on Teens and Tweens. Gay Teen Ideas, indeed!

esonnenschein said

at 11:10 pm on Aug 23, 2010

I still think the "Stag at Rest" is the best one!

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