Whether you’re new to the craft of knitting or already an accomplished knitter, it is always interesting to know where the craft you love so much originated.
For instance, did you know that the word “knitting” comes from the Old English word cynntan that means to tie or to knot?
The earliest knitting found
The earliest example of knitting that archaeologists have uncovered, is an Egyptian sock dated as coming from the 11th century AD. This sock already shows bands of wonderful colorwork between bands of plain yarn. This shows that knitting is probably much older.
Unfortunately knitted items were often worn until worn out or was destroyed by the ravages of time. That’s why there are so few early artifacts of the craft.
Knitting is also thought to have originated in the Middle East with the craft and practicing of the craft following the Mediterranean trade routes to Europe. Later, the craft traveled to the Americas with the Europeans.
Early knitting in the Europe Middle Ages and Renaissance
According to The Complete Guide to Knitting, the earliest known knitted items in Europe were made by Muslim knitters who were employed by Spanish Christian royal families.
These knitters had a high level of knitting expertise and among the surviving items are knitted cushion covers and gloves which were placed in the tomb of Prince Fernando de la Cerda (d. 1275). The cushion cover was made of silk and knitted 20 stitches to the inch!
Various knitted garments from the mid-13th century have also been found in Spanish cathedral treasuries.
A knitted fragment, which is probably a mitten cuff, was found in Estonia. Knitted in a stranded pattern in three colors. Estonia is nowadays especially known for their beautiful knitted lace.
A number of 14th century paintings show the Virgin Mary knitting. These include Our Lady Knitting by Tommaso da Modena and Visit of the Angel by Master Bertram of Minden.
Cities from all over Europe show that knitted items were used for everyday goods from the 14th century onward.
The purl stitch only appeared in the mid-16th century. Eleanora de Toleda wore knitted stockings showing this stitch as part of the clothes she was buried in. These stockings also showed some lacy patterns which were created with yarn overs.
Across the channel in Britain, Queen Elizabeth I delighted in knitted silk stockings, although most stockings of this time were made from fine wool.
Knitting schools were also established during this period and provided an income for the poor. Stockings made in England were exported to the Netherlands, Spain, and Germany.
The first knitting machine
The first knitting machine was invented in 1589 by William Lee, who was an English clergyman. He gifted Queen Elizabeth I a pair of stockings, but she declined to give him a patent for his invention. However, King Henry IV of France offered Lee financial support. The French spread this “knitting loom” throughout Europe.
When the device came to Great Britain, the Worshipful Company of Framework Knitters were incorporated in 1657 in London.
This framework knitting was usually done at home with the whole of the family participating.
A decline in hand knitting
By the mid-19th century, there was a decline in hand knitting as industry, but it increasingly became a hobby. Knitting patterns for leisure and industrial use started appearing in print at this time.
When we skip forward in time, we not only see that bead work is added to knitting, but knitting was again used during hard times to give especially women a chance to earn a living during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
A lot of knitting was also done for the war efforts during the two World Wars.
Knitting soon became a fashion statement as sportswear — for example wearing Fair Isle for golfing — as well.
A decline in hand knitting
During the latter half of the 20th century, knitting was seen more and more as something that was old-fashioned and was also no longer taught at school.
The 1980s particularly saw a slump in yarn sales for hand knitting.
Knitting today looks very different from the way that it looked in the 1980s, for example. The internet has brought knitters together from all across the world on sites like Ravelry and Love Crafts.
Because of the handmade revival, knitting has become a pastime again for many and celebrities seen knitting has also made it a more “accepted” craft once more.
The upsurge in hand-dyed yarn — like that of KnitPal — has also made hand-knitted garments that much more special.
Wikipedia: History of Knitting
The Complete Guide to Knitting by Margaret Hubert