There are plenty of times in the Visitors Centers where we don’t have any visitors, especially on cold or rainy days. We are supposed to look professional and be ready to greet guests at all times, so reading a book during the down times wasn’t an option for me – I would get engrossed in the story and never notice if someone was speaking to me. So I asked my boss if I was allowed to knit on the job. She said I could as long as it didn’t interfere with me greeting guests. Then she added, in a joking way (I think) “as long as the knitting was historically accurate.”
That got the gears in my brain turning. Most of the rangers here have to dress up as soldiers from time to time as living historians. I looked up Civil War patterns on Ravelry, and soon had glove, hat, scarf, and sock patterns that were perfect for my “knitting for soldiers” project.
Usually the rangers dress up at Confederate Soldiers; after all, we are in Georgia. During the Civil War, the Confederate Soldiers were issued cotton socks. Cotton socks are fine for dress shoes but they were too thin for soldier boots. The soldiers begged, in the letters they would write home, for thick, wool socks, knitted by wives and mothers. As I knitted these wool socks in the Visitors Center, I was able to tell people about the Confederate soldiers with their cotton socks: an interpretive moment! So knitting the socks helped me be more effective at my job! I used the soldier sock pattern for these socks. I also used 100% wool worsted weight yarn and size 4 or 5 double pointed needles.
The socks were fun to make but after a couple of pairs (four socks of same pattern) I would get bored, so I switched in a few other things – after all, not all of our rangers dress up like soldiers. I made thrummed mittens for Interpretive Head Ranger Kim Coons. I made a “long and skinny” scarf for Ranger Scott Martin who has to sit in the fee booth during the winter months. I made French Press felted slippers for Law-Enforcement Ranger Amanda DeFriese and for Marie, the manager of the Eastern National Bookstore.
I found one more authentic Civil War soldier pattern that intrigued me: shooters mitts. They are mittens with an index finger knitted separately and a gusset in the index finger so you can stick your finger out to shoot, then pull it back into keep it warm. Here is how the mitten is described in an 1861 newspaper article: (from the Milwaukee Sentinel, Nov. 15, 1861) “Our soldiers will stand as much in need of mittens as stockings this winter. A frostbitten finger will disable them for real service as much as a frostbitten foot. Now is the time, ladies, to knit mittens for the volunteers, and have them ready against the time they are called for. The best mitten for the soldier is that which has one finger and a thumb, and the directions for knitting these is as follows…”
These mittens are not needed frequently in Georgia but would have been welcome by the soldiers in Chattanooga. Ranger Will Sunderland is modeling them for me. They will go in the “soldier’s life” demonstration on what a soldier wore and used. The rangers use it with school groups.
I enjoyed knitting for soldiers while I was working here at Chattanooga. It kept my hands and mind busy during slow times and gives the rangers something tangible to remember when Tom and I move on.