History of knitting
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Knitting is the process of using two or more needles to loop yarn into a series of interconnected loops in order to create a finished garment or some other type of fabric. The word is derived from knot, thought to originate from the Dutch verb knutten, which is similar to the Old English cnyttan, to knot. Its origins lie in the basic human need for clothing for protection against the elements. More recently, hand knitting has become less a necessary skill and more a hobby.
Early origins of knitting 
Knitting is a technique of producing fabric from a strand of yarn or wool. Unlike weaving, knitting does not require a loom nor other large equipment, making it a valuable technique for nomadic and non-agrarian peoples.
The oldest artifact with a knitted appearance is a type of sock. It is believed that socks and stockings were the first pieces produced using techniques similar to knitting. These socks were worked in Nålebinding, a technique of making fabric by creating multiple knots or loops with a single needle and thread. Many of these existing clothing items employed nålebinding techniques; some of them look very similar to true knitting, for example, 3rd-5th century AD Romano-Egyptian toe-socks. Several pieces, done in now obscure techniques, have been mistaken for knitting or crocheting.
Most histories of knitting place its origin somewhere in the Middle East, from there it spread to Europe by Mediterranean trade routes, and then to the Americas with European colonization. The earliest known examples of knitting have been found in Egypt and cover a range of items, including complex colorful wool fragments and indigo blue and white cotton stockings, which have been dated between the 11th and 14th centuries BC.
Early European Knitting 
The earliest known knitted items in Europe were made by Muslim knitters employed by Spanish Christian royal families. Their high level of knitting skill can be seen in several items found in the tombs in the Abbey of Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas, a royal monastery, near Burgos, Spain. Among them are the knitted cushion covers and gloves found in the tomb of Prince Fernando de la Cerda, who died in 1275. The silk cushion cover was knit at approximately 20 stitches per inch. It included knit patterns reflecting the family armory, as well as the word baraka ("blessings") in Arabic in stylized Kufic script. Numerous other knit garments and accessories, also dating from the mid-13th century, have been found in cathedral treasuries in Spain.
At this time, the purl stitch (the opposite action to the knit stitch) was unknown and purely stockinette fabric was produced by knitting in the round on multiple knitting needles. Sometimes the knitting was cut open, a process now known as steeking.
Several paintings from Europe portray the Virgin Mary knitting and date from the 14th century, including Our Lady Knitting by Tommaso da Modena (circa 1325-1375) and Visit of the Angel, from the right wing of the Buxtehude Altar, 1400–10, by Master Bertram of Minden.
Archaeological finds from medieval cities all over Europe, such as London, Newcastle, Oslo, Amsterdam, and Lübeck, as well as tax lists, prove the spread of knitted goods for everyday use from the 14th century onwards. Like many archaeological textiles most of the finds are only fragments of knitted items so that in most cases their former appearance and use is unknown. One of the exceptions is a 14th or 15th century woollen child's cap from Lübeck.
The first known purl stitches appear in the mid-16th century, in the red silk stockings in which Eleanora de Toledo, wife of Cosimo de Medici, was buried, and which also include the first lacy patterns made by yarn-overs, but the technique may have been developed slightly earlier. The English Queen Elizabeth I herself favored silk stockings; these were finer, softer, more decorative and much more expensive than those of wool. Stockings reputed to have belonged to her still exist, demonstrating the high quality of the items specifically knitted for her. During this era the manufacture of stockings was of vast importance to many Britons, who knitted with fine wool and exported their wares. Knitting schools were established as a way of providing an income to the poor. The fashion of the period, requiring men to wear short trunks, made fitted stockings a fashion necessity. Stockings made in England were sent to the Netherlands, Spain, and Germany.
Men were also the first to knit for an occupation.
Importance in Scottish history 
Knitting was such a vast occupation among those living on the Scottish Isles during the 17th and 18th centuries that whole families were involved in making sweaters, accessories, socks, stockings, etc. Fair Isle techniques were used to create elaborate colorful patterns. Sweaters were essential garments for the fishermen of these islands because the natural oils within the wool provided some element of protection against the harsh weather encountered while out fishing.
Industrial revolution 
Rudimentary knitting devices had been invented prior to this period, but were one-off creations. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, wool spinning and cloth manufacture increasingly shifted to factories. Women were employed to operate the machinery, rather than spinning and knitting items at home. The consistency of factory spun wool was better in that it was more uniform, and its weight could be gauged better as a consequence.
1920s: the Russian Civil Wars and China 
After the White Russians' defeat in the Civil War, many units retreated into China's Xinjiang and were interned there. As China was about to descend into a civil war of its own, the Russian internees were transported by camel caravans to Eastern China. According to Owen Lattimore, it was then that they passed on the art of knitting to the Chinese caravan men, who had ready supply of camel hair from their animals. In 1926, Lattimore was able to observe camel-pullers "knitting on the march; if they ran out of yarn, they would reach back to the first camel of the file they were leading, pluck a handful of hair from the neck, and roll it in their palms into the beginning of a length of yarn; a weight was attached to this, and given a twist to start it spinning, and the man went on feeding wool into the thread until he had spun enough yarn to continue his knitting". This way the camel men not only provided themselves with warm camel-hair socks, but were able to make knitwear for sale as well.
1939–1945: Knitting for Victory 
Make do and mend was the title of a booklet produced by the British wartime government department, the Ministry of Information. Wool was in very short supply, and the booklet encouraged women to unpick old unwearable woollen items in order to re-use the wool.
Knitting patterns were issued so that people could make items for the Army and Navy to wear in winter, such as balaclavas and gloves. This not only produced the much-needed items, but also gave those on the "home front" a positive sense of contributing to the war effort.
1950s and 60s: Haute Couture 
After the war years, knitting had a huge boost as greater colors and styles of yarn were introduced. Many thousands of patterns fed a market hungry for fashionable designs in bright colors. The twinset was an extremely popular combination for the home knitter. It consisted of a short-sleeved top with a long-sleeved cardigan in the same color, to be worn together.
Girls were taught to knit in school, as it was thought to be a useful skill, not just a hobby. Magazines such as "Pins and needles" in the UK carried patterns of varying difficulty including not just clothes, but also blankets, toys, bags, lace curtains and items that could be sold for profit.
1980s: A Decline 
The popularity of knitting showed a sharp decline during this period in the Western world. Sales of patterns and yarns slumped, as the craft was increasingly seen as old-fashioned and children were rarely taught to knit in school.
The increased availability and low cost of machine knitted items meant that consumers could have a sweater at the same cost of purchasing the wool and pattern themselves, or often for far less.
Early 21st Century Revival 
The 21st century has seen a resurgence of knitting. This resurgence can be noted in part to coincide with the growth of the internet and internet-based technologies, as well as the general "Handmade Revolution".
Natural fibers from animals, such as alpaca, angora, and merino, and plant fibers, chiefly cotton, have become easier and less costly to collect and process, and therefore more widely available. Exotic fibers, such as silk, bamboo, yak, and qiviut, are growing in popularity as well. The yarn industry has started to make novelty yarns which produce stunning results without years of knitting experience. Designers have begun to create patterns which work up quickly on large needles, a phenomenon known as instant-gratification knitting.
Celebrities including Julia Roberts, Winona Ryder, Dakota Fanning, and Cameron Diaz have been seen knitting and have helped to popularize the revival of the craft. The new millennium has also seen a return by men to the art of knitting.
As time and technology change, so does the art of knitting. The Internet allows knitters to connect, share interests and learn from each other, whether across the street or across the globe. Among the first Internet knitting phenomena was the popular KnitList with thousands of members. In 1998, the first online knitting magazine, KnitNet, began publishing. (It suspended publication with its 54th edition in 2009.) Blogging later added fuel to the development of an international knitting community.
Patterns from both print and online sources have inspired groups (known as knit-a-long's, or KAL's) centered on knitting a specific pattern. Knitting podcasts have also emerged, with much cross-pollination of ideas from blogs, 'zines, and knitting books. Traditional designs and techniques that had been preserved by a relatively small number of hand-knitters are now finding a wider audience as well.
On January 14, 2006 influential author and knit-blogger Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, otherwise known as Yarn Harlot, challenged the knitting world to participate in the 2006 Knitting Olympics. To participate, a knitter committed to casting-on a challenging project during the opening ceremonies of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, and to have that project finished by the time the Olympic flame was extinguished sixteen days later. By the first day of the Olympics, almost 4,000 knitters had risen to the challenge.
As another sign of the popularity of knitting in the early 21st century, a large international online community and social networking site for knitters and crocheters, Ravelry, was founded by Casey and Jessica Forbes in May 2007. At first available by invitation only the site connects knitting and crochet enthusiasts around the world and, as of May 2013, had over 3.15 million registered users.
See also 
- Cornu, Georgette, Marielle Martiniani-Reber, et al. Tissus d'Égypte: témoins du monde arabe, VIIIe à XVe siècles, 1993. ISBN 2-908528-52-5
- Macdonald, Anne L., No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting, 1988. ISBN 0-345-33906-1
- Rutt, Richard, A History of Hand Knitting, Interweave Press, 1987. ISBN 0-934026-35-1
- The Grove Encyclopedia of Decorative Arts
- Games, Alex (2007), Balderdash & piffle : one sandwich short of a dog's dinner, London: BBC, ISBN 978-1-84607-235-2
- Zilboorg, Anna. Fancy Feet: Traditional Knitting Patterns of Turkey. Lark Books. 1994. ISBN :9780937274750. Paperback edition titled Simply Socks: 45 Traditional Turkish Patterns to Knit. Lark Books. 2001. ISBN :9781887374590.
- Tissus d'Égypte: témoins du monde arabe, VIIIe. - XVe. siècles. Collection Bouvier, Exposition 1993-1994, Musée d'art et d'histoire à Genève. 1994, Institut du monde arabe à Paris. ISBN :9782908528527
- Rutt, Richard. A History of Hand Knitting. Batsford Ltd. 1987. ISBN :9780713451184
- Gómez-Moreno, Manuel. El Panteón Real de las Huelgas de Burgos: los enterramientos de los reyes de León y de Castilla. Madrid, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Instituto Diego Velázquez. 1946.
- Crowfoot, Pritchard, Staniland:Textiles and Clothing, c.1150-c.1450: Finds from Medieval Excavations in London (Medieval Finds from Excavations in London)
- Penelope Walton: The Textiles (from the Castle ditch, Newcastle upon Tyne 1974-76). In: Archaeologica Aeliana, 5th series IX 1981. P. 190-206.
- Anne Kjellberg: Tekstiler fra Christianas Bygrunn. In: Riksantikvarens Skrifter 4, 1981. P. 231-238
- Sandra Y. Vons-Comis: Medieval Textil Finds from the Netherlands. In: Textilsymposium Neumünster 1981, Archäologische Textilfunde, Neumünster 1982. P. 151-162.
- Karl Schlabow: Spätmittelalterliche Textilfunde aus der Lübecker Altstadtgrabung 1952. In: Zeitschrift des Vereins für Lübeckische Geschichte und Altertumskunde 36, 1956. P. 133-153.
- Rutt, Richard. A History of Hand Knitting. Batsford Ltd. 1987. ISBN :9780713451184
- Orsi Landini, Roberta. Moda a Firenze, 1540-1580 : lo stile di Eleonora di Toledo e la sua influenza. Firenze: Pagliai Polistampa, 2005. ISBN :9788883048678
- Feitelson, Ann. The Art of Fair Isle Knitting. History, Technique, Color & Patterns, Interweave Press LLC, 1996, p. 19 & 28, ISBN 978-1-59668-138-5
- Owen Lattimore, The Desert Road to Turkestan. London, Methuen, 1928. Page 52.
- The 2006 Knitting Olympics
- History 101 A history of knitting by Julie Theaker.
- History of knitting website with various helpful resources
- Information on the Heritage of the East Midlands Knitting Industry in the UK
- Needle Conversion Chart Shows conversion between current and past US and European knitting needle sizes.
- Victoria and Albert Museum provided 1940s knitting patterns
- Free vintage knitting patterns and resources