A brief over view of knitting origins and development since as early as 1000 CE.
The History of Knitting
Knitting is a technique of producing fabric from a strand of yarn or wool. If you're here you most likely already knew that part. The process involves using two needles to create loops that pass through each other to form a flexible fabric. Unlike weaving, knitting does not require a loom nor other large equipment, making it a valuable technique for nomadic and non-agrarian peoples. The proof of this is in our modern day manifestations of knitting. People can take their knitting where ever they go.
Many believe the origin of knitting manifested from Arabic fishermen frustrated with catching one fish at a time and managed to create nets to assist them. There is no solid evidence of this though. It would seem knitting is much older than people ever suspected.
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 CE 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 CE. Wool was not used at this time and wasn't adopted as a material for knitting until much later.
The first dateable knitting specimen in Europe was found in a sealed up tomb in Spain in the middle of the dark ages, 1275 CE. Even in these dark times knitting was still a luxury trade item made from imported silks and cottons and producing non-vital items such as pillows, small bags and liturgical gloves. Early knitting samples were not basic either. Those that survived contained highly intricate patterns and colors.
By the 1500s, most of the wealthy in Europe had at least one pair of knit socks and possibly a knit undershirt.
In the Mid-1500s, the first and only major new technique was introduced to knitting: the purl stitch. First found on a pair of stockings in a tomb in Toledo, Spain dating to 1562. Knitted jackets and shirts were also popular at this time, usually knitted from silk and gilt threads. Gilt yarn at the time was made from actual metal.
While knitting was still an exclusive art, supply and demand changed and knitting slowly shifted from a high demand luxury item to a low demand folk craft. and back again. In the Victorian era knitting had become a parlor art used to create fine laces, bags, and baby clothes. They seem to be the ones who introduced fine beadwork to knitting, stringing tiny beads onto sewing threads and knitting into fabric.
Knitting was such an important 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.
The next revolution in knitting was the idea of knitwear as sportswear, coming from two places at once - British royalty and the paris designers. The Prince of Wales began wearing Fair Isle sweaters to golf in.
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.
The city of Nottingham, particularly the district known as Lace Market, dominated the production of machine-knitted lace during the Industrial Revolution and the following decades.
Leicestershire and neighbouring counties, had long had an association with the hosiery industry. This continued particularly growing with the invention of portable circular knitting machines. Machines could be hired and worked from home rather than relying on large stocking frames or the much slower hand knitting. One manufacturer of these machines was Griswold and such work was often called Griswold work.
The mid nineteenth century saw the beginnings of knitting as a hobby. Printed patterns began to be produced, aimed primarily at middle class women. Yarns began to be produced specifically for the domestic market. Rather than knitting being a cottage industry, or commercial necessity it could be a pleasurable and useful pastime and has been marketed in this way ever since.