Knitting, in fact all the textile crafts, are ancient arts, they go back so far in our history that I doubt you could fix the date – and unlike pottery and metal work, wool, linen and flax, the first fibres to be used to make cloth – ie clothes – are bio-degradable, so there are not that many artefacts to be found in archaeological digs.
Oddly enough, having just done a search for ‘the history of knitting’, the trawl is very sparse – this is from Wikipedia – the never failing first place to go!
“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.“
There is a tantalising listing for an audio book ‘A History of Hand Knitting’ on Amazon, that says “this product is not available in your region”, and several reviews that refer to a well illustrated hardback book published in 2003, which seems to be utterly unobtainable.
I listened to the audio sample given, and heard enough to know that the author Richard Rutt, has delved into the subject with true academic rigour, and if it was available, I’d buy it like a shot! I can’t image why it is out of print! Are you listening out there?!
I did find some interesting information in a post published in February 2014, on Sheep & Stitch,. The unnamed author has found some great photos in various museum collections, which I have shamelessly copied here – smile.
This is the one of the the sample of Egyptian knitting, mentioned above. It is very reminiscent of FairIsle knitting – see my i/sheet on this – and seems amazingly advanced!
There is also what appears to be a stone carving, that was taken by a tourist in London, probably in one of the museums, but it doesn’t say which one.
I highly recommend you have a look at both parts 1 & 2 of the Sheep & Stitch posts, if you are at all interested in knitting or history! Part 2 has some lovely medieval images of knitting, and then onwards, to the present day.
It’s difficult not to take the feminist stance about the lack of documentation on the History of Knitting – and I normally avoid any involvement in feminist politics!
It feels like ” knitting was always considered to be ‘woman’s work’ it wasn’t taken very seriously”. It has always been a very practical craft, and before machine knitting came in, was the only way to provide the family with warm clothing – something that was a necessity in cold climates – so why wasn’t it valued?
And before you men shout out loud at me, yes, many men knit and have done so far back into history – there is a proud tradition of seamen knitting to pass the time on long voyages!
However, the majority of modern knitters are women, so why haven’t we valued it enough to give it a place in history?
With the introduction of mass production machine knitting, hand knitting seemed redundant, and gradually fell out of fashion after the 2nd World War. This also led to a huge fall in the price of wool, and a lack of choice for those who continued to knit.
However, there has been a heartening resurgence in the popularity of creative hand knitting in the last few years, and its great to see so many people on sites like Ravelry! There is now a serious market for all kinds of yarn, and thankfully, hand spun yarn is particularly valued, and it is now worthwhile for home spinners to sell their yarn and even make a living out of spinning.
I was taught to knit by my grandmother, when I was a child, and have knitted on and off ever since. At one time, when mohair jumpers were all the rage, I actually gathered a few knitters around me and paid them to knit some of my own designs, which sold quite well – until fashion moved on to something else – smile.
This is one of my favourite designs, which I knitted up for myself. I still have it in the wardrobe, but sadly, it no longer fits!
Its really quite easy to adapt a standard pattern to add your own design, so all you knitters out there – be adventurous, and try making something that is truly individual!