An exact geographical origin for
knitting cannot be specified.
The craft is believed to have been developed B.C., but this
is disputed today. The oldest remnants of seemingly knitted
pieces are those that were worn as
socks. It is believed that
stockings were the first
pieces to be produced by techniques similar to knitting
as they had to be shaped in order to fit the foot, whereas
woven cloth could be used for most other items of
Today it is known that these early socks were worked
Nalebinding, an ancient craft which involves creating
fabric from thread by making multible knots or loops. It
is done with a needle (originally of wood or bone). There
exist numerous techniques of nalebinding, and some of them
look very similar to true knitting. This craft was almost
dead by the time archaeological excavations started exept
in some very remote areas, so no one thought about it. Some
of the oldest textiles ever found are today believed to
be a kind of nalebinding. It has been speculated that nalebinding
or related techniques may have preceded the abillity to
spin continuous thread, because nalebinding isn't worked
with a continuous thread and so doesn't require one. Several
other pieces done in now almost extinct techniques have
been mistaken for knitting or
crochet by archaeologists
who had no training in the history of
The first references to true knitting in Europe date
in the early 14th century, the first knitted socks from
Egypt might be slightly older. At these early times, the
purl stich was unknown, in order to produce plain knitting
they had to knit in the round and then cut it open if required.
The first reference to purl stich dates from mid 16th century,
but the knowledge may have lightly preceded that.
During this era the manufacture of stockings
was of vast importance to many Britons,
who knitted with fine wool and exported
their wares. Knitting schools were established
as a way of providing an income to the poor,
and the stockings that were made sent to
Holland, Spain, and Germany.
The fashion of the period for men to
wear short trunks made the fitted stockings
commonly used, a fashion necessity.
Queen Elizabeth the First herself favoured
these were finer, softer and much more expensive.
Actual examples of stockings that belonged
to her still remain, showing the high quality
and decorative nature of the items specifically
knitted for her.
Importance in Scottish history
Knitting was such a vast occupation among
those living on the Scottish Isles during
the 17th and 18th centuries that the whole
family would be involved in making sweaters,
socks, stockings, etc. The sweaters were
essential to the fishermen of these Isles,
as the natural oils within the wool would
provide some element of protection against
the harsh weathers while out fishing.
devices had been invented
prior to this period, but
were one-off creations.
With the advent of the Industrial
and cloth manufacture began
to be done in factories.
More women would be employed
at operating machinery,
rather than producing their
home spun and knitted items.
The consistency of the
factory spun wool was better
in that it was more uniform,
and the weight could be
gauged better as a consequence.
1939-1945 Knitting for
Make do and mend was
the title of a booklet produced
by the British wartime government
department, the Ministry
Wool was in very short
supply, as were so many
things. The booklet encouraged
unpick any old, unwearable,
woollen items in order to
re-use the wool.
Knitting patterns were issued for people
to make items for the Army and Navy to wear
in winter, such as
This had the effect of producing the required
items, but also gave a positive sense of
achievement towards the war effort, by being
able to contribute in this way.
1950' and 60's high fashion
After the war years, knitting has a huge
boost as greater colours and styles of yarn
were introduced. Many thousands of patterns
fed a hungry market for fashionable designs
in bright colours.
was an extremely popular combination for
the home knitter. It consisted of a short-sleeved
top with a cardigan in the same colour,
to be worn together.
Girls were taught to knit in schools,
as it was thought to be a useful skill,
not just a hobby. Magazines such as "Pins
and needles" in the UK, carried patterns
of varying difficulty, with not just clothes,
but items such as blankets, toys, bags,
lace curtains and items that could be sold
The popularity of knitting showed a sharp
decline in this period in the Western world.
Sales of patterns and yarns slumped, as
the craft was increasingly seen as old-fashioned
and children were rarely taught to knit
The increased availability and low cost
of machine knitted items meant that consumers
could have a beautiful looking sweater at
the same cost of purchasing the wool and
Following this decline of knitting, manufacturers
and designers looked for new ways to stimulate
interest and creativity within the craft.
Focus was given to making
speciality yarns, which could produce
beautiful and stunning results.
Companies like Vogue worked to make their
patterns the height of fashion, and
Rowan Yarns popularised their patterns
with high-quality magazines that bore no
resemblance to the old-fashioned style once
produced in bulk.
Celebrities such as Julia Roberts being
seen knitting helped to popularise the revival
of the craft.