A History of Knitting
The term knitting originally
comes from a word in the Dutch language meaning to knot. However,
the method of combining thread/yarn to create a fabric is much older
than that term. The earliest known knitting-type cloth manufacture
comes from Roman-era Egypt where socks with divided toes were made
using wool yarn. These socks, similar in form to traditional
Japanese tabi socks, were designed for wear with sandals. The
proto-knitting technique (nalbinding) differs from the modern
method; however, it represents an important evolution in the
creation of fabrics during this time period.
European knitting emerged from the Muslim population of thirteenth
century Spain where artisans from this tradition made knitted
stockings of very high quality for the Spanish royal family. Silk
yarn was the material of choice for these garments. Spain was the
center of knitting in Europe for more than two centuries. During
this time, knitting was used for other products, including gloves
and pillow covers.
The technique of purling was unknown until the sixteenth century,
meaning that knitters created a stockinette fabric by knitting in
the round using multiple pins during this period. In the fourteenth
century, paintings depicting the Virgin Mary as a knitter began to
appear, some of which survive even now, including one by Venetian
painter Tommaso da Modena.
The popularity of knitting increased in England during their
Renaissance era, the reign of Elizabeth I, with woolen knitted
products from that country being widely exported to continental
Europe. Knitting schools opened during this time to educate the poor
in the art. Students, however, were primarily men and knitting was
considered a masculine occupation, even though many women knitted
for their families as their skills allowed. The quality of knitting
in England was considered the best in Europe. Knitting guilds also
appeared during this time.
Somewhat later, knitting became an important cottage industry in
Scotland where whole families knitted for their livelihoods.
Scotland remains heavily associated with knitting and knit products
even now. Ireland's association with knit sweaters, especially
cabled knits, came later in nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries. These sweaters, made for fishermen, are known as Aran
sweaters/cardigans and are named for the Aran Islands off the
western coast of Ireland. Many myths surround these garments;
however, few have any basis in history.
The Industrial Revolution decreased the focus on knitting fabrics,
especially those created at home, and shifted the garment industry
toward manufacturing and machine-produced cloth. Knitting in England
revived during the World War II years when cloth and clothing were
In the East, knitting was primarily done by nomadic peoples who
utilized camel hair and other rougher materials, usually for their
own use, not for commercial purposes. This tradition continued
through many changes in lifestyle and industry, remaining in use
among indigenous peoples through many centuries of political
Knit fabrics enjoyed two periods of popularity in the US during the
1950s and 60s and later in the early part of the twenty-first
century, continuing until present day as more and more yarn types
become available and craft shops increase in terms of both presence
in the marketplace and popularity. The knitting revival in the
mid-twentieth century can be attributed to both fashion and the
focus on home-making in American culture.
The sharpest decline in home knitting popularity occurred in the
1980s, brought about by the material culture and cheaply
manufactured knit clothing of that decade. As the economy has
declined, the importance of home-skills like knitting and clothing
repair have increased proportionately.
Currently, knitting remains on the rise among young women, who learn
the craft from friends and family, instructional books, and a wide
variety of Internet resources geared toward beginning-to-advanced
level knitters. Additionally, knitting blogs are also a substantial
presence online. The current outlook is for knitting to continue its
rise in popularity at least until the economy changes, after which
the focus on skills of this kind may decrease again.
How a knitting wool
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