Battle Stitches

Jun 19, 2007 | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Those fighting for a war and those fighting against a war are close knit, expressing loyalty and protest through industry and art to stitch a pair of black socks for army boots and blood red sweaters to commemorate the dead. The lines are drawn in the sand, but must you take sides?

Big black socks are gifts of love in the eyes of Kim Opperman, president of Socks for Soldiers, Inc., a nonprofit charity that tries to entice knitters to make military standard socks for the men and women fighting in the Middle East. The mission is to make 100,000 pairs and they currently have 1,042 members, which could mean 1,042 cases of tendinitis unless more knitters join. There's a kit available for purchase, and options for donating costs of shipping, yarn, and needles or volunteering your time to promote and organize.

Civilians can be charitable beyond the support of our troops to civilians displaced, widowed and orphaned by war, such as through the cleverly named Afghans For Afghans, which suggests patterns for afghans, socks, mittens, sweaters, vests, and hats, and hints at how green represents Islam, was the Prophet Muhammad's favorite color, and is all over Paradise. When I first started making hats, I made this grassroots effort a website favorite in order to remind myself to make the next deadline which, of course, I missed. But when I next checked back, I saw a photograph of the poet, Mark Wunderlich, proudly displaying his crocheted afghan for an Afghan. He and I used to work at the same literary organization, so it was strange to see him pictured outside of the craft of poetry, and it was another sign that knitting was a new, regenerative path filled with correspondences.

As when I learned to knit and was reading the novel, The Lost Garden, by Helen Humphreys, and sending resumes into the dearth. Deep into this enjoyable novel of volunteer gardeners in Devon with the Women's Land Army during the Second World War, a minor character's fiancé fighting far away emerges as a knitter, making more adventurous and elaborate sweaters for her at each outpost, and sending them back to her as woolen love letters. So much is made of men knitting these days, as if they have crossed some boundary line into women's work, and must knit black and gray scarves and sweaters as armor against suspicion, and here, instead, was a matter-of-fact depiction of love through knit and purl, and little pearl buttons.

A kind of air-craft, anti-war demonstration can be found at Red Sweaters where knitters send in miniature red pullover sweaters of their making to represent American soldiers lost in Iraq, which are then hung from the high branches of trees, like blown apart pieces of flesh, quite frankly. It's quite disconcerting, as it should be, and their site reports on the ratio of dead soldiers to red sweaters knit, 3,521 to 2,546, last I looked. Interestingly enough, the pattern they provide for knitting this three and a half inch sweater looks like a Red Cross before its sides are sewn together.

Despite the black and white political party lines for and against the war, we know not to fight against those fighting the war and instead fight against those in charge of it. So, why not knit for soldiers living and dead? If you can't decide, yet, among socks for soldiers, afghans for orphans, or pullovers for protest, may I suggest a dog sweater for a land-mine-sniffing German Shepherd? Or, knitting tiny red ones to drape over fire hydrants in a new art installation?