A few months ago I was invited to help gather material on the local history of our craft for a talk that our guild president, Jeannine was preparing for a fundraiser for the RPO. As a librarian and an old reference desk hand, I was quickly drawn in to the search.
Jeannine covered the history of the Rochester Knitting Guild itself which was founded as recently as the 1980's. But what about earlier history? We know that everyone and their uncle knit on a regular basis, but was there a predecessor of the RKG? What kinds of activities and organizations were there for knitters?
I began by reading "No Idle Hands: the Social History of American Knitting by Anne MacDonald looking for reference to our town or region. There's only a few lines concerning bazaars which were held by various neighbourhoods to raise money for this and that. OKAY, but not much detail. This is a good read though and generally very interesting and well written.
I next turned to the Internet and searched Google Book Search. I know that Google Book Search is frustrating for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that many of the recent books allow you to view only a snippet of content if anything at all. It is a boon when you want to do keyword searching in older, out of copyright books and has endless use knitting mills and machines in the area and not much about hand knitting.
I started to hit the motherload on a site called Fultonhistory.com. This little known site is the brainchild of Thomas Tryniski in Fulton New York. It indexes and provides the full text of many upstate newspapers starting with 1832. This includes the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. It's a heck of a site, but you really do need to be persistent to use it. It's no Amazon, but it does present the full digital image of the newspapers. So. What did I find on our craft?
I tried using the keyword search for "knitting and rochester," but the results were too many and cluttered with those darned knitting mills and machines. I got the best results by searching for an exact phrase. There's a ton of stuff under Needlework Guild of America. I scrolled through and picked out the items that appeared in the local paper. The most informative of these were published in the 1930's during the Great Depression.
The Knitting Bureau: 362 East Avenue, second floor
The Needlework Guild of America's Rochester branch was founded almost the same year that the Guild came to North America and in the 1930's it had a "Knitting Bureau" on the second floor of the Fitch Building down at 362 East Ave. This building seems miraculously to have survived until today as the address 360-364 East Ave.(I think folks here must have worshipped Robert Moses cause they tore down a lot of of buildings in the 60's a raised up highways around the city). Anyone up for a raod trip? Take your camera! City Hall has this picture of the building. Just imagine. Well it's one of these, whichever one is called "The Fitch," that is it. Here was a place you could go and pick up yarn and needles to do community knitting.
Coming soon... What went on in the Fitch Building anyway?