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Spy Knitting

Did you know about the long and intriguing relationship between kntting and espionage? If you didn't, you're about to! Coded messages and fiber art have always had an eerily natural fit: every project is made of some combination of two different types of stitch - a knit or a purl - and thus contains enough information potential to carry a cipher. And any such cipher would be very well hidden due to the unassuming nature of the medium carrying it. Phyllis Latour Doyle is the spy knitter we probably have the most complete record of. Parachuted into Normandy in 1944, she would ride stashed bicycles around the countryside and chat-up German soldiers. After collecting information, she would then sit down with her knitting kit and prepare messages hidden in silk to transmit back to Britain using Morse Code equipment: “I always carried knitting because my codes were on a piece of silk—I had about 2000 I could use. When I used a code I would just pinprick it to indicate it had gone. I wrapped the piece of silk around a knitting needle and put it in a flat shoe lace which I used to tie my hair up,” The Germans had their own textile spy network, the most infamous of which involved sweaters that were knotted with incredibly complex codes - officers in the intelligence community would receive these sweaters and carefully unravel them, then compare the knot pattern against an alphabetical grid marked on a door frame in order to decode the message. Impressive, if a bit impractical. Knitting, spying and secret messages so often go hand-in-hand that knitters around the world have figured out ways you, or the knitter in your life, can make your own secret knitting codes. Non-spying knitters make gloves and scarves from the Dewey Decimal system, Morse code, and binary programming language for computers, treating knits and purls like zeros and ones. And if you do pass on knitted code, you’ll be joining a longstanding tradition of textile-making spies.

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