THIS WEEK'S FEATURE ARTICLES
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One purl, one plain
I used to be an avid knitter. My knitting went everywhere with me. I suppose I got it from my mother who taught us all to knit way back and who was a wonderful knitter herself. I well remember, when I could do such things, trekking in the Himalayas, walking alongside our Sherpa’s wife who was using two twigs to knit on. You would have thought it was Christmas when I gave her my plastic knitting needles – unobtainable in Nepal at that time. In the Shetland Islands we learnt how drowned fishermen could be identified by the pattern in their jumpers, but what about using your knitting to pass on secrets during war time?
I recently came across an article by Natalie Zarrelli called “Grandma was just making a sweater. Or was she?” It appears that many spies were in fact women in occupied countries. During World War I, “a grandmother in Belgium knitted at her window, watching the passing trains. As one train chugged by, she made a bumpy stitch in the fabric with her two needles. Another passed, and she dropped a stitch from the fabric, making an intentional hole. Later, she would risk her life by handing the fabric to a soldier—a fellow spy in the Belgian resistance, working to defeat the occupying German force.”
Whether women knitted codes into fabric or used stereotypes of knitting women as a cover, there’s a history between knitting and espionage. “Spies have been known to work code messages into knitting, embroidery, hooked rugs, etc,” according to the 1942 book A Guide to Codes and Signals. During wartime, where there were knitters, there were often spies; a pair of eyes, watching between the click of needles.
Before this, though in fiction, in A Tale of Two Cities, a bloodthirsty French woman named Madame Defarge knitted coolly among the audience while the guillotine beheaded French nobles, and zealously created a series of stitches to encode names of nobles that would be executed next.
Every knitted garment is made of different combinations of just two stitches: a plain stitch (sometimes called a knit stitch), which is smooth and looks like a “v”, and a purl stitch, which looks like a horizontal line or a little bump. All patterns in knitting are made by using a specific combination of plain and purls in a predetermined way.
Innocently knitting away, watching and listening, was a great cover for collecting information whether or not you included it in what you were making.
“Female spies during the American Revolutionary War also used the “old women are always knitting” stereotype to their advantage. Molly “Old Mom” Rinker, a spy for George Washington during the Revolutionary War, sat on a hilltop and pretended to knit while spying on the British, according to An Encyclopedia of American Women at War. She then hid scraps of paper with sensitive information in balls of yarn, which she tossed over a cliff to hidden soldiers right below, under the noses of the enemy.”
Lucy Adlington, in her book Stitches in Time, writes about one article that appeared in UK Pearson’s Magazine in October 1918, which reported that Germans were knitting whole sweaters to send messages – perhaps an exaggeration.
This tradition of knitting spies continued later during World War II. Again, in Belgium, the resistance hired older women near train yards to add code into their knitting, to track the travel of enemy forces. This led to the UK ‘Office of Censorship’s’ ban on posting knitting patterns in the Second World War, in case they contained a coded message.
Phyllis Latour Doyle, secret agent for Britain during World War II, spent the war years sneaking information to the British using knitting as a cover.
Elizabeth Bently, an American who spied for the Soviet Union during World War II and later became a US informant, used her knitting bag to sneak early plans for the B-29 bombs and information on aircraft creation.
Knitting, spying and secret messages so often go hand-in-hand that knitters around the world have figured out ways to make it work.
The possibilities are apparently endless, it might even be worth learning to knit to give it a try.
Recipe of the month with Kirsten Bacon
Lush apple cakes
These apple cakes are seriously the best ever. So easy to make, and I have adapted them at times, using pears and even chopped up poached quinces. As long as the ingredients don’t vary too much with the batter they are pretty versatile. Try adding some nuts and spices as well. I am particularly partial to the addition of pear and cardamom as a combination, I have to say.
Butter can be substituted for good oils but try and avoid highly processed oils and remember the consistency will be slightly heavier but still delicious. They freeze super well.
Makes 12 little cakes or 6 large muffins
120g unrefined sugar
125g self-raising flour
2 large eggs
125g butter, melted
4 medium apples, peeled, cored and diced (or 1 can of
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
• Preheat oven to 180°C.
• In a large bowl, combine all ingredients.
• Place muffin cases in tray.
• Divide cake mixture evenly between 12 muffin cases.
• Bake for 20 minutes or until cooked and golden brown.
• Allow to cool completely before removing from tin.
• Eat and enjoy!
Rain, rain don’t go away: don’t waste a drop
What a crazy country – from droughts, to bushfires, then floods, maybe back to drought, then back again through the cycle. We all need water, we all depend on rain. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always fall when and where we want it to. Remember the nursery rhyme: “Rain, rain, go away, come again another day, Little Johnny wants to play, Rain, rain go away.” The rhyme we learned was slightly different: “Rain, rain, go away, Today is mother’s washing day…” Establishing routines around the weather and the rain is not unusual. I know of an elderly gentleman of 94 years who insists that Saturday is his washing day. Old habits are hard to break, and for many of us, the amount of water we use is often taken for granted, for washing or other things. The recent droughts have been especially hard for people in outlying towns and the bush. Not having enough water for extravagances such as washing days, has become a way of life for many rural communities, throughout the country. While the country dwellers have struggled for water, they may also have
developed resentment towards the coastal dwellers who have been profligate with water usage. The privilege of having good clean water has often been taken for granted or abused. We must all learn to be more water-wise.
Frugal with water
As children growing up in the bush of WA, we were constantly aware of not wasting water. Bath water became water for washing clothes, plugs were always used in sinks, and all water was recycled for the garden. The following are some standard recommendations for saving water: Turn off taps; start saving by breaking a bad habit: Never let water run needlessly as you wash or rinse dishes, wash your hands or face, brush your teeth or shave. Turning off the tap while you brush your teeth and shave can save hundreds of gallons a month. Be sure to fix leaks. Use every drop. Learn to repurpose water. One easy way is to capture under your colander the potable water you use to rinse fruits and vegetables then use it in the garden. Do the same while you wait for your hot water to come in. Double-dip dishes by using dual sinks. Instead of letting the water run while you wash dishes, fill one sink with hot, soapy water for washing, and the other with cool, clear water for rinsing. You’ll use half the water you otherwise would by using two large bowls for washing and rinsing. If you like dishwashers, using a smaller washer can save a great deal of water. Scraping dishes instead of rinsing them before loading may save up to 10 gallons a load. You should run only full loads.
Washing clothes or self
Apparently, clothes washing accounts for more than 20 percent of residential indoor water use and the average family may wash about 300 loads of laundry each year. Therefore, look for a high-efficiency washer, such as an Energy Star-certified machine. Front-loading machines are meant to use less water than top-loading machines. There is a useful term to help with water saving – low-flow. The bathroom is the site of the greatest indoor water use in the house – it’s also a place where you can reap major water savings with some smart choices. Toilets account for nearly 30 percent of an average home’s indoor water consumption. Older toilets use as much as 6 gallons per flush. Newer toilets may use just 1.28 to 1.6 gallons of water per flush. Dual-flush toilets use even less water. Showering accounts for almost 17 percent of household indoor water use – up to 40 gallons a day for the average family of four. To save water here, replace a regular showerhead, which uses 2½ gallons a minute, with a more economical showerhead, which uses 2 gallons a minute or less while offering the same or better shower performance. Shorten showers – perhaps use a kitchen timer to time your showers and aim for five minutes or less. Outdoors, cover up your pool if you have one. Capture rainwater. In the garden, water by hand or get a watering can. Sure, lots of work involved, but think of the exercise and peace you will get, communing with nature. Irrigation is a good thing to consider. New products and innovation have come a long way, and it’s not a bad idea to ask the experts.
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