Friday, April 1, 2011

The Kitchener Stitch - A Guest Posting by Jim Johnson

Lady Eloise Cochrane was a member of Queen Victoria’s Spinning, Knitting, Tat and Chat Circle.  She was a young woman of no special beauty, but she had one charm that made her especially desirable to young English gentlemen; a very large dowry.  Eventually Sir Harold Kitchener, the second son of Baron Ronald Kitchener, won her hand and the associated prize.  As he was a second son he thought he needed to do something to increase his position in the world, so he took a portion of the dowry and bought a commission as Cornell in a regiment stationed in India.  Perhaps, he thought, he could not only add to his stature but to his finances in India.  Unfortunately for the pair of them this did mean at least a temporary sojourn to that distant place.
            After arriving in Bombay, Sir Harold discovered to his and Lady Eloise’s distress why he was able to purchase this commission.  His regiment was stationed in NORTHERN Punjab and was active in the fighting there.  Alas, this meant separation for the newlyweds, since the North of Punjab was no place for a gentlewoman from England.  So Lady Eloise took up residency in the English quarter of Bombay and prepared to wait for her husband's return.
            Lady Eloise took it upon herself to personally knit scarves, gloves and socks for Sir Harold’s journey to the wild and wooly frontier of British India.  

Unfortunately she had no idea how to close the toes of his socks or the fingers of his gloves, so she simply left them open (fingerless gloves, toeless socks).  As it turned out the fingerless gloves were a lifesaver the first time Sir Harold’s regiment was in a close battle and he had to fire and reload his own pistol.  The cold feet that winter were not such a blessing.
            Not to insult his lady wife by acquiring other socks Sir Harold ordered his orderly to sew closed the front of his socks.  This was slightly uncomfortable, but much warmer.  His toes now staying above frostbite level, Sir Harold began to wonder why the socks his dear wife knit for him were so inferior to the ones worn by the mere commoners in his regiment. Good English wool knit by a proper English Lady should not be inferior in any way to stockings made by the common women for the riff raff he commanded.
            With this thought firmly in mind he told Corporal O’Hara, his orderly, to discover the difference in the style of knitting and to refurbish all of the stockings Lady Eloise had made for him.  Corporal O’Hara privately raged at this request as he thought it was below his status to do any knitting.  So the good corporal took aside one of the married Irish troopers and ordered him to have his wife fix the stockings and show him how this was done.   O’Hara planned to write the process down and get credit with Sir Harold.
            Three days later he proudly presented the now completed stockings and the procedure description to Sir Harold.  This was greeted with no particular expression of thanks from the great man, but Sir Harold did remember to keep a copy of the description for closing the toes of his socks.
            As far as corporal O’Hara and the private soldier were concerned this is where the entire thing ended.  But, two weeks later Lady Eloise received her latest missive from her absent husband. In it was a clear description, written in his own, hand of the procedure for closing the toes of stockings.
            Lady Eloise carefully followed this description for Sir Harold’s next pair of stockings. When he received them Sir Harold proudly showed his major and captains the fine footwear his dear wife had knit for him.  This prompted them to send letters to their wives asking them to do the same.  Lady Eloise proudly showed the other wives the method of closing the toes and other objects that her dear husband had “invented”.

            Two and one half years later Sir Harold received devastating news, both his father and elder brother had been killed in a horrid accident when the horses pulling their carriage bolted upon hearing a steam whistle and ran onto the tracks of an approaching train.  As sad as this was it also meant that Sir Harold was now Baron Kitchener.  The Baron found a buyer for his commission so Baron and Lady Kitchener quickly returned to England.  Once again in London, Lady Kitchener rejoined the Spinning, Knitting, Tat and Chat Circle.  She showed all her peers the clever way that Baron Kitchener had derived for finishing knitted items.  From then it was but a short time until Baron Kitchener’s name became immortalized in the Kitchener stitch.

from Susan-- I think this should be retitled -  How Another Dead White Male Took Credit For A Woman's Idea.


Karen said...

Great story. And I especially like Susan's post script!

Usch said...

Love the story - never knew it in such detail!