The Knitting Queen
Queen Victoria was a lifelong avid knitter and crocheter, and she also spun. Though she probably only did handiwork because she enjoyed it, her taste for it had far-reaching effects. Prior to the early nineteenth century, knitting was a folk art and a cottage industry, something the poor did from necessity and to earn a living. Queen Elizabeth I bought handknitted stockings, but wasn't herself a knitter. In the nineteenth century knitting became something all socioeconomic classes did, partly because of the rise of the popular press and the subsequent availability of printed knitting patterns, partly because of technical advances in the production of knitting needles and the introduction of standardized size needles, but also and in no small part because Queen Victoria elevated the status of knitting by setting a royal example. By the end of Queen Victoria's life every properly brought-up young girl in Western society was taught to knit as a matter of course, regardless of her family's economic status. Queen Victoria probably had a very salutary effect on crocheting as well, as crocheting did not even exist long before 1800, but became a common craft in less than a century.
This crocheted scarf is one of eight Queen Victoria made to be awarded to some members of the British military who had served with distinction in the Boer War in South Africa. The scarves had no significance as a military decoration, but must have had their own very special cachet. Not to mention that I find the whole idea of Queen Victoria crocheting these special scarves for her soldiers hilariously maternal and loving-hands-at-home. Can you picture any modern head of state doing such a thing for members of his or her national military? Would Stephen Harper knit bow ties for members of the Canadian military? Would Barack Obama cross-stitch medallions for his soldiers? But then it's my understanding that this sort of thing was typical of Queen Victoria's character. She did live in a bubble of extreme privilege and could be appallingly out of touch with what life was like for her subjects (she was middle-aged before she realized there was such a thing as train tickets, as she'd always simply walked on board herself), but her tastes and mindset could be very middle class. Queen Victoria enjoyed the circus and a nip of whiskey.
There's a story told that on one occasion, Victoria was visiting a Scottish household near Balmoral Castle and presented her hostess with a pair of socks that she had knitted herself. There was an elderly woman also present who was hard of hearing and hadn't grasped the visitor's identity, and who loudly remarked, "If her man gets no better made socks than that, I pity him." Fortunately, Her Majesty was amused.