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Knitting - History and Trivia of an Old World Craft

Knitting with Yarn

When Did Knitting Begin?

Knitting is an old world craft that is still done today. No one is sure, exactly when knitting began. but it probably originated in the Middle East, most likely in Egypt. Fragments of knitted articles were found in burial sites going back from the 5th to 6th centuries and from the 10th to 14th centuries.

Knitting is the craft of producing fabric from yarn or wool. It differs from weaving because it does not need any large equipment like a loom. To trace the history of knitting is not easy. Because the material of wool or silk used in knitting decays easily, it is hard to find evidence of this craft among our ancestors. Any wooden sticks that could possibly be knitting needles from long ago, could also be picks worn in the hair, skewers, some kind of tools, spindles, or any other uses that sharpened sticks could be utilized for. There is no way to date knitting in the past. Knitting would be an easy craft for nomadic people, because the tools could easily be carried.

Knitting is a Fairly Recent Invention

Knitting involves looping yarn with sharpened needles that creates a flexible and stretchy fabric. The elasticity of the finished product depends on many factors, from the size of the needles to the thickness of the yarn. The type of yarn used, and the tension of the knitter, also affect the flexibility of the fabric. Yarn can be almost any type of fabric, from string to raffia, rags, leather, wool, fur, cotton, hair, or blends of these products. Needles, can be made from aluminum, bamboo, plastic, wood, etx.

It is believed knitting is a somewhat recent invention. In the 1400’s the word ‘to knit’ was added for the first time in the Oxford Unabridged English Dictionary. At the time of the Renaissance, the term to knit began ot mean to make loops with 2 straight, long needles. It is believed the term knitting may have started in the Middle East and Spain, and spread around the world through trade routes and through the colonization of Europe and America.
The word knitting is derived from the word knot and originating from the Dutch word knutten, which is similar to Old English word cnyttan, which means to knot.

Before knitting was developed, one needle knitting was called nalbinding to make stretchy type fabrics. It required mor skill to do than knitting. Nalbinding or nalebinding, is similar to cross stitch or twisted stretch knitting, and was done even in the 300’s. It is done by making several loops with a needle and thread. Some of the oldest evidence of nalbinding are socks that were found to be used in the 300’s. It looks very similar to knitting and crocheting.

How to Knit - The Basics of Knitting

Knitting Goes Around the World

Early examples of knitting were found in Egypt between the 11th and 14th centuries CE. Items that were found included white and indigo blue cotton stockings and detailed wool remnants.

In Spain knitted products were made by Muslims who worked for royal families. They were highly skilled knitters, who made gloves and cushion covers knitted from silk. The patterns were designs of the family armory and the baraka, which means blessings, written in Arabic Kufic script. These things they made were found in the Spanish royal monastery tombs in the Abbey of Santa Maria la Real de Las Huelgas. Othere knitted clothing and accessories were found in cathedrals in Spain that can be dated from the mid 1200’s on.

Knitting Was Done Mostly by Men

The first knitting guild was created in 620 A.D. in France to honor a Scotsman named St. Fiacra, who is credited with introducing knitting to France. Knitting guilds gained great popularity in Europe during the Middle Ages. At this time, knitting was considered an industry, much like weaving. It was the guilds who controlled the manufacture of knit goods. Before a knitter could enter a guild, they must have served as an apprentice for 6 years. They had to prove their skill at knitting stockings, shirts, berets. Knitting guilds admitted ony men and became a source of income for knitters. In South America, it was the lower classes that knitted. In the Andes, Peru, Boliva, men were the knitters.

The Industrial Revolution in Europe and in the U.S. from the 1900’s on, brought the advent of machines making knitted products. An Englishman named Rev. William Leed invented the original knitting machine in 1589. His wife knitted by hand, but his invention revolutionized the garment industry, even though it was not popularly received. Queen Elizabeth refused to give a patent to the knitting machine, because she thought it would put people out of work. So he brought the machine to France, and it was received very favorably. Men operated the machine, and women knitted the finishing touches by hand.

Knitting While Standing Up

Knitting can be done while traveling

Knitting can be done while traveling

Knitting Through Time

In the 1600 and 1700s, knitting was very big in the Scottish Isles. Entire families knitted sweaters, socks, accessories, stockings, and many articles of clothing.

During the industrial revolution, factories started making clothing and the knitting machinery made the finished product more uniform.

In the 1920’s Russia introduced knitting to China. They used camel hair and could knit while marching.

During 1939–1945, knitting patterns were produced so that people would knit items such as gloves, for the Army and Navy to contribute to the war effort.

After WWII, knitting became ever more popular. Knitting started to become less popular in the 1980s. During the 21st century, knitting has had a resurgence. Yarn consists of a variety of fibers, including alpaca, merino, angora, plant fibers, cotton, and wool. Some materials, such as silk, yak, qiviut, bamboo are considered exotic fibers. Novelty yarns are made by manufacturers to prouduce spectacular results even among new knitters.

Knitting as a Hobby Today

American History and Knitting

In Colonial America, before the days of the American Revolution, colonists, boycotted anything that was English. Knitting became a popular practice of showing liberty. Both first ladies, Martha Washington and Abigail Adams were knitters. Martha Washington sold knitted socks to raise money for the troops. When Edith Roosevelt, the first lady when Teddy Roosevelt was President, she invited friends to the White House to knit and soicalize. Grace Coolidge, Calvin Coolidge first lady, was also a highy skilled knitter. She was known to sponsor a knitting competition run by Vogue and other major fashion magazines. She knitted a baby carriage robe that received honorable mention in the competition. She was known to donate her finished product to bazaars and benefits ans was known for her skill at knitting monogrammed silk stocking.

When Lou Hoover was first lady, she also donated much of her knitted works.

Eleanor Roosevelt knitted wherever she went. A White House Christmas card depicted her with her knitting. Her love of knitting paved the way to motivate other women to knit for the troops during World War II.

Madeleine Albright, the former Secretary of State knitted often too. She was born in Poland, where knitting is a common skill.

In some countries, like Portugal, knitting is more common among men than women. Cathering Zeta-Jones taught Antonio Banderas to knit during the filming of “The Legend of Zorro,". Antonio Banderas liked to knit so much, he taught his wife, Melanie Griffith.

Wool Comes from Sheep

Sheep are usually sheared for their wool once a year in early spring or early summer.

Sheep are usually sheared for their wool once a year in early spring or early summer.

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Wool Goes Back to 4000 B.C.

Wool was probably the first fiber to be used for knitting. Spinning wool into yarn developed approximately 4000 B.C. It spurred trade between countries in the Mediterranean Sea trade route. The Romans established the first wool factory in 50 A.D. in England. Australia started the first Merino sheep industry after the British brought 13 Merino sheep in 1797. There are 40 breeds of sheep that produce approximately 200 types of wool with different standards. The biggest producers of wool in the word are South Africa, China, Australia, and Argentina.

The production of wool includes 4 major steps.

  • shearing
  • sorting
  • grading
  • making fabric

How Wool is Made into Yarn

Sheep are usually sheared once a year, in early spring, or early summer. The better quality wool comes from the shoulders and the sides of sheep. Workers remove any wool that is inferior or damaged and they sort the wool by the quality of fibers. They judge the fibers by strength, the diameter or fineness, the waviness or crimp, the length, and color.

In the next step, the wool is cleansed with detergents to eliminate impurities, sand and dust, etc. This is known as scouring the wool. The wool is then let to dry. After it dries, it is carded. The carding process puts the wool through rollers that are equipped with thin wire teeth. The teeth detangle the fibers and set them on a flat sheet that is known as a web, which is then formed into narrow called silvers. The carding process enables the wool to be used in producing yarn, depending on how long the fibers are. Carding fibers make woolen yarn. Combing fibers make worsted yarn.

Woolen yarn has a soft, fuzzy feel and is heavier than worsted yarn. Worsted wool is twisted and is lighter and smoother. It is less bulky and makes it easier to transport. It requires a number of proceses to make it into worsted wool. The smoother the yarn, the less fuzziness there is. Fine worsted wool is can be made into athletic wear because it absorbs perspiration and allows the body to breathe since it is not as hot as polyester.

Wool can be dyed a variety of color at different stages of the process to make it. It then goes through a finishing process to make it look and feel a certain way.

Fulling is the start of finishing the wool. It involves wetting the fabric with water and passing it through the rollers. Fulling causes the fibers to interlock and mat together. The wool shrinks the fabric, giving it more thickness and strength. Worsted wool goes through a process known as crabbin. The wool goes through boiling water and then cold water, strengthening the wool.

The qualities of the wool:

  • absorbs moisture
  • wears well
  • lightweight
  • doesn’t wrinkle
  • resistant to dirt


Alpaca fiber makes very warm products

Alpaca fiber makes very warm products

Alpaca Yarn

Alpaca yarn has many advantages over wool. The alpaca fiber is hypo-allergenic, which is good for people who have sensitivities and allergies to wool. Alpaca is a fiber that has a hollow core which helps keep the wearer, warmer than wool does. Because alpaca fur breathes, it allows you to be more comfortable, even when you need to feel cooler.

Knitting - A Rare Craft from Long Ago

In this modern world, where things are mass produced for speed and cost efficiency. Knitting, an old world craft has changed little in the centuries it has been done to create useful items. Today, knitting is enjoying a resurgence as a hobby and for the home made appeal it has.

Yarn is Useful for Other Species Too

Can you teach a cat to knit purrfectly?

Can you teach a cat to knit purrfectly?


Helen Murphy Howell from Fife, Scotland on September 25, 2012:

Toknowinfo this is one fascinating and excellent hub! I love knitting as well as cross stitch but I didn't know half of the history of the craft of knitting! This was really very interesting to me!

I love the photographs especially the wee kitty!!!

Voted up + shared!

Audrey Kirchner from Washington on September 19, 2012:

Gosh Rhonda--excellent info and layout is perfect! I happen to love to knit but unfortunately I seem to be running out of time and would have to knit (now) in my sleep---I have a grandbaby coming up too (first one) and I would love to knit something new! I'll have to settle for giving my daughter the 3 baby blankets I knitted when I had my own babies I hoo--I miss it! I also want to get my mal's hair spun so I can knit a blanket of him to have forever~

Thomas Silvia from Massachusetts on September 17, 2012:

Hi my friend, great and interesting read about the beginning and history of knitting. Even though i don't do knitting i found it interesting !

Vote up and more !!! SHARING !

Maddie Ruud from Oakland, CA on September 17, 2012:

What an interesting read! I learned so much about the history of knitting, and it inspired me to want to pick my needles up again!

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