Knitting History Definition

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Early origins of knitting

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 socks and 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 clothing.

Today it is known that these early socks were worked in 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 needlework.

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.

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Elizabethan period

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 silk stockings, 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.

Many elaborate designs were developed, such as cable stitch used on aran sweaters.

Industrial revolution

Rudimentary knitting devices had been invented prior to this period, but were one-off creations. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution wool spinning, 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 victory

Make do and mend was the title of a booklet produced by the British wartime government department, the Ministry of Information.

Wool was in very short supply, as were so many things. The booklet encouraged women to 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 balaclavas and gloves. 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 colors and styles of yarn were introduced. Many thousands of patterns fed a hungry market for fashionable designs in bright colors.

The "twinset" was an extremely popular combination for the home knitter. It consisted of a short-sleeved top with a cardigan in the same color, 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 for profit.

1980's decline

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 in school.

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 pattern themselves.

2000's revival

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 specialty yarns, which could produce beautiful and stunning results.

Companies like Vogue worked to make their patterns the height of fashion, and Rowan yarns popularized 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.

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1850's Fashion History

1860's Fashion History

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