MBE for Knitting – Janet Bowie

My husband is trained well. That sounds patronising doesn’t it? Perhaps I should phrase it another way. How about, my husband loves me very much and takes a keen interest in my hobbies. Yes, that sounds much better, let’s try that again.

My husband loves me very much and takes a keen interest in my hobbies. So when he went to New Zealand for work and found himself in the elevator of one of his clients (Dunedin City Council), he excused himself from the conversation he was having with said client in order to take a photo with his phone of this poster.

It’s a bit grainy but it says: After making 736 pairs of socks for New Zealand soldiers during the Great War, Janet Bowie was awarded the world’s first and only MBE for knitting.

Not only did he potentially embarrass himself in front of (male) clients in order to take this picture, but he also seemed suitably impressed at this most amazing feat!

Just think about it. World War I went for four years. So that’s 184 pairs of socks per year. That’s 3.5 pairs of socks each week!

Not only that, but each of these pairs of socks are exactly that, a pair! That means 7 individual socks every single week for four years. Or 368 individual socks per year. Or 1472 individual socks in total.

This mammoth effort is even more phenomenal to those of us who have experienced “Second Sock Syndrome”. *

It occurred to me a few days later that I should try to find out more about Janet Bowie. This occurrence took place first thing on a Monday morning just after arriving at work and I immediately performed a Google search to see what I could find. **

Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, I didn’t find much. I actually had to couple “Janet Bowie” with the word “knit” and some double-quotations before I found anything useful. Even then it was a disappointingly small result. Disappointing not just because I was hopeful to stave off the work week for a few more minutes; but also because this was a most remarkable and worthwhile endeavor and I thought it deserved a bit more Internet space. I tried to look positively at the situation and supposed that if Mrs Bowie were to knit 736 pairs of socks for today’s diggers then she would have a blog documenting each pair and a huge following on facebook and twitter.

The first link I found was this one.


After registering (it’s free) you can go to page 6 and see the picture from the elevator. It seems to be an advertisement for the Toitu Otago Settlers Museum.

The second link (I think) is to that Museum’s collection site; it looks as if they have Mrs Bowie’s MBE. There is also a short blurb here on Mrs Bowie’s life which, to be honest, was enough stalking for me.


Janet Bowie's MBE

I have always felt that knitting was a wonderful, generous and magical hobby. When my mother created garments for us as children I would hold the fabric she created from yarn and stare in wonder, trying to make sense of all the little knots. That magic didn’t fade she taught me to knit, I still pause regularly while knitting to admire my handywork and marvel at how I could have created something so beautiful and practical.

Some might mock or deny this magic but it holds true even today and this is proven by the thousands of traditionalist who still dedicate hours of time as well as oodles of cash to this pursuit when they could opt for a cheaper and less time consuming machine-made “equivalent” (I use the term loosely).

This MBE should remind us that knitting is not just a dorky habit for elderly women. This “dorky” habit kept people warm, reminded people of their homes, gave them a connection to their families and their country and re-enforced not only what they were fighting for but that there were people back home doing their bit to help out.

OK enough of this pondering, I’m making myself cry. I think I’ll go and knit a square.


* I have not personally experienced Second Sock Syndrome having never actually knitted a sock. I have, however, experienced Second Glove Syndrome and can only assume they are quite similar.

** Occurrences seem to always happen to me first thing on a Monday morning. One might assume this has something to do with procrastination and a reluctance to admit that the working week has begun; but I don’t because I’ve always been told that to assume makes an ass out of you and me.

A Year of Monsters

2012 was a big year. Many things were going to happen this year, some of which came to pass (I got married) and some of which didn’t (the house renovations are still with council). It’s also the year that I took an online class from Craftsy called Design Your Own Monster.

I was quite new to crochet having only learnt how at the end of 2011, and in a short time I was hooked. (Please don’t judge me for that pun, I know it’s not the first time someone has used it in relation to crochet and it definitely won’t be the last. It is entirely appropriate though so I feel justified despite your groans!)

The little creatures I learned to make in this course were so simple and yet so fun and satisfying that I just had to make one for each of the little people around me.

The first was for my niece’s 4th birthday. Note my lovely husband modelling without protest; one of the many reasons I married him.


The eyes were a bit tricky, but despite them being not-quite-round she loved it. She’s named it Monster’s Inc and has even taken him to day care for show and tell. I consider that a success!


My next attempt was for another niece’s 6th birthday. This one had no bulgy eyes and so I was much happier with how it turned out. It was also a fair bit simpler.


For my last niece’s 6th birthday I went for one of the other patterns from the class. By this time I had made some small improvements in my technique; the eyes are properly round this time, but they are pointing in slightly different directions. My wonderful husband told me that added to the monster’s charm; yet another reason I love him!


(My cat Sebastian tried to gnaw on him a bit but it was my fault for using his jungle gym as a photography stand.)

After finishing these three handsome harrys I was feeling much more bold about working something not from a pattern. So for my step childrens’ birthdays (11 and 8) I asked them to design their own. We spent a bit of time drawing on paper and came up with the following. They’re pretty much just variations on the patterns included as part of the class but I was happy to take baby steps!

This was what my 11 year old step daughter came up with.


And this was my 8 year old step son’s. Note the perfectly round eyes! Was very happy with this one.


So we’re at the end of 2012 now and I have one nephew left who needs a monster. He lives in a different state and is only turning 4 so I didn’t have an option to get him to design something for himself. This time I would need to get my own creative juices going!

I’m not really one for planning, I prefer to jump right in. I knew I wanted eyes so I crocheted up a few white bulgy eyes and got my husband to put the black pupils in. (Yet another reason I was right to marry him. I’m not strong enough to get the back on those tiny plastic screws so when I finish an eye I hand him the eye and the pupil and he drops what he’s doing to finish it for me!)

Then I started on the body, finishing off the yarn I used for some of the previous monsters. I thought this one should be on his side rather than upright so eventually I ended up with this.


And this was where I got stuck. I was going to finish the body off as just an elongated sphere similar to the head, but for some reason that didn’t sit right with me. I went over and over different options, legs, cone shaping, maybe trying to get larger like a funnel. After a while I admitted I was stumped and went to my step kids for advice.

As usual they were full of ideas! My step son in particular said “Why don’t we give him a spiky back like a dragon?”.

Perfect! In a little while (using the other end of the ball of yarn so I didn’t have to cut the end, thanks for that tip Fresh Stitches!) I’d crocheted up a few spikes and they were ready to attach once I’d made the body a bit bigger.


I decided to end the body off in a cone shape using the same technique as the above spikes but in reverse. Was a bit tricky to stuff it as it was getting smaller and smaller but it was totally worth it in the end.  I think this monster is my favourite so far, probably because it used a lot of the techniques taught it the class to come up with something new.  My nephew’s birthday is not until after Christmas but I hope he loves it as much as I do!