Maybe you knit, maybe you crochet–maybe, like me–you simply admire anyone who can do such a thing and keep promising yourself some day you’ll sit down and learn how to do it, too! But did you know that knitting–a craft typically done by women–was actually a tool of the Resistance during World War II?
Knitting was a common pastime during the thirties and forties, and when war started, women were frequently called upon to knit socks and balaclavas for soldiers. There was nothing extraordinary about knitting.
Or so it seemed.
Are you familiar with the term steganography? In short, it’s the idea of hiding a message in a place so common, so mundane, that you wouldn’t expect it to be there.
Like in a swatch of handcrafted fabric, for example.
As a matter of fact, in Belgium, crafty older women were recruited by the Resistance to sit and watch the trains go by their windows while knitting away. The stitches they chose described the type of train the enemy was sending one way or the other. The fabric would then be passed to another member of the Resistance and decoded, giving information regarding important logistics. The situation became such a concern that the Office of Censorship eventually forbade people from even mailing knitting patterns abroad.
The young British secret agent Phyllis Latour Doyle (codename “Genevieve” in Vichy France and “Paulette” in Normandy) “always carried knitting because my codes were on a piece of silk–I had about 2000 I could use.” Doyle would later translate the information recorded on the silk into Morse Code, sending important messages abroad to allies.
Elizabeth Bently (an American turned spy for the Soviets) may not have used knitting itself to code messages, but instead she used her inconspicuous knitting bag to transport secret plans for bombs and aircraft to her handlers.
A Few Sources You’ll Likely Enjoy:
Atlas Obscura recently did an article about knitting spies by Natalie Zarrelli entitled “The Wartime Spies Who Used Knitting as an Espionage Tool.”
The Telegraph‘s Molly Oldfield and John Mitchinson mention the knitting spies (and much more about knitting) in their article “QI: How Knitting was Used as Code in WW2?”
A Mighty Girl on Facebook posted about Doyle in 2014.
Steganographic Knitting is addressed at Sky Fish Knits.
Steganography is on Wikipedia (of course).
Want to Try Knitting Something Small?
There are “easy free knitting patterns” for bookmarks at Knitting on the Net.
More of a Realist Who Wants to Just Buy a Knitted Bookmark Instead?