Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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If I saw this in a story, I might not believe it

The Wartime Spies Who Used Knitting as an Espionage Tool

DURING WORLD WAR I, A grandmother in Belgium knitted at her window, watching the passing trains. As one train chugged by, she made a bumpy stitch in the fabric with her two needles. Another passed, and she dropped a stitch from the fabric, making an intentional hole. Later, she would risk her life by handing the fabric to a soldier—a fellow spy in the Belgian resistance, working to defeat the occupying German force.

Whether women knitted codes into fabric or used stereotypes of knitting women as a cover, there’s a history between knitting and espionage. “Spies have been known to work code messages into knitting, embroidery, hooked rugs, etc,” according to the 1942 book A Guide to Codes and Signals. During wartime, where there were knitters, there were often spies; a pair of eyes, watching between the click of two needles.

How about that? How very resourceful people are.

This is a long article, but well worth a few minutes to read the whole thing.

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5 Comments If I saw this in a story, I might not believe it

  1. Elaine T

    Saw that yesterday, and my thought was “Patricia Wrede didn’t make it up!”
    She has Thomas’ (IIRC) mother (Sorcery & Cecilia) send coded knitting messages. Although her’s is described as looking less like knitting and more like a mess… Still, the principle works.

  2. mona

    I believe Tamora Pierce also makes reference to it in one of her Circle of Magic books. Maybe two.

  3. Rachel

    Neat. Not surprised, either. Anybody who knows about that will surely look for a chance to integrate the idea into a book, but as a reader I’d find it striking but not necessarily plausible, unless I already knew it happened in the real world.

  4. Jo in OKC

    I think Tamora Pierce used something similar in the first Ali book — doesn’t Ali decode knots for her dad, the Spy Master?

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