The word knitting comes from knot, the dutche verb knutten, and the old English word cnytten, to knot. The earliest examples that can be properly identified as knitted garments are socks which were found in Egypt, believed to be from the end of the first millennium AD. These socks were well made and so it is likely that they were not the work of a beginner, and that the process of knitting was well established at these times. Somewhat surprisingly, there are no legends of knitting, whereas there are legends of weaving.
There is sufficient evidence to suggest that knitting was developed in the Middle East, or North Africa. For example, Islamic countries read from left to right, and we knit from right to left. When the first pieces of knitting were found in Europe that could be accurately dated, they were found in a tomb that was sealed in 1275. This tomb was in Spain, which was occupied by the Moores from North Africa during these times. The fragments of garments had writing knitted into them in Arabic script. Literacy was widespread in the Middle East during these times, but not in Europe. In addition, cotton and silk were used for knitting these garments, which was much more widespread in the Middle East than wool. If knitting was founded in Europe, it’s much more likely to have used wool or linen. From Spain, knitting soon spread to the rest of Europe, with more examples found in Germany, France and Italy.
The purl stitch was introduced during the 1500s, and was found on a pair of stockings in Toledo, Spain in a tomb dating 1562. By this time, most of the wealthy people in Europe had at least one pair of knitted socks. The first hat knitting guild was established in England in 1424, and the first knitting trade guild had started in Paris in 1527. In 1566, the King of Sweden, King Eric, owned 27 pairs of silk stockings imported from Spain, and each pair apparently cost the same as the annual salary of his valet.
As well as stockings, other knitted garments such as shirts and jackets soon became popular, and as more and more people learned to knit and knitting became available and accessible to the less well off. Knitting soon spread round the world thanks to the trade routes. Sailors were especially fond of knitting, as it gave them something productive to do on long journeys. In Victorian times, knitting was seen as a parlour art, and many people knitted fine laces, bags and baby clothes, introducing beadwork into knitting.
Knitting has drifted in and out of fashion, and for a long time was thought of as a pastime for the older generation, with many grandparents knitting jumpers and baby clothes for their children and grandchildren. Nowadays, people turn to knitting for all sorts of reasons, for knitting garments for charity, to save money, or simply for the fun of it.
With the advent of the internet, it’s now possible to share knitting patterns and discuss knitting with people all over the world, and more and more people are coming back to knitting, or learning to knit. In addition, many celebrities are taking up knitting.
Knitting is fashionable again, and there are many different things to knit, ranging from simple scarves to jumpers with intricate patterns. Whatever you want to learn to knit, you’re sure to be able to find the pattern for it. What’s stopping you?