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How to Make a Knitted Uterus for Teaching

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By | From the Collections

An item for knitting enthusiasts has recently been acquired by the Library as part of the papers of The Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Women’s Health (ACPWH).

photograph of a knitted uterus

Photographs of the knitted uterus model being demonstrated. From How to Make a Knitted Uterus for Teaching. Wellcome Library reference SA/CSP/R/2/4/3.

The matter-of-factly titled How to Make a ‘Knitted Uterus’ for Teaching is a pamphlet collected by the ACPWH as part of their remit to raise the standard of education and training in the field of obstetrics. Thanks to the knitted uterus, a hitherto largely mysterious vocabulary and process is illuminated in an instant. As the author states:

“We have found that parents readily understand how labor contractions work when we use a stuffed ‘uterus’. By compressing the ‘fundus’ it is easy to illustrate the effect of labor contractions – the downward push against the baby and the upward of the pull of the cervix. In this way, effacement and dilation are readily visualised”

The Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Women’s Health was a Special Interest Group of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) and their papers have been added to the CSP archive (Library reference SA/CSP), held at the Wellcome Library since the mid-1990s, as part of a large recent addition of around 150 boxes of material.

The ACPWH itself was established as The Obstetric Physiotherapists’ Association, growing into the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Women’s Health by 1994 to reflect a more holistic approach to women’s issues. It has since become a professional network of the CSP called Pelvic Obstetric and Gynaecological Physiotherapy, although this portion of the Association’s history is not yet represented in the archive.

From the outset, the Association was determined to raise standards of obstetric care, not only among physiotherapists, but also other professionals such as perinatal nurses and midwives.


A physiotherapist, holding a knitted “uterus” teaches a group of midwives. From How to Make a Knitted Uterus for Teaching. Wellcome Library reference SA/CSP/R/2/4/3.

Hence the large collection of informative pamphlets and papers in the archive, of which How to make a ‘Knitted Uterus’ for Teaching is one. The pamphlet shows an attitude prevalent throughout the collection as a whole; a new candid approach to childbirth, an inclination to demystify the process for expectant mothers in the interest of compassion (and also, in the Association’s early years, for the strengthening of a population recently devastated by war). The collection covers the post-war years up to the mid-2000s and includes photographs, posters, films and equipment alongside a considerable body of paper material.

The ‘uterus’ pamphlet is a good illustration of the practical nature of much of the material. Absent is any element of kitsch, the knitted uterus is intended as a means to educate, not as an object of hilarity, and the knitting instructions are appropriately straightforward:

“Cast on 48 sts. Divide evenly on three needles. Join. K2, P2 until cuff measures 2 inches” etc.

Although the use of knitting terminology ensures much of the pamphlet remains a dark and obscure mystery to me, I cannot deny a vague horror at the instruction “Insert doll’s head” when looking at the accompanying images.

Should you wish to knit your very own ‘uterus’ for teaching or otherwise, the pamphlet (Library reference SA/CSP/R/2/4/3) may be consulted in the Library. The ACPWH papers (Library reference SA/CSP/R) are now fully catalogued in the Library catalogue.

Peter Judge

Peter Judge is a Consultant Archivist at the Wellcome Library.

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