Welcome to my new blog series, crafting through history! I thought it would be fun to put together a mini series based on two topics that interest me immensely: history and crafting. Each Thursday in March I’ll be sharing about the history of important crafting tools or techniques that are still used today. Please keep in mind, the information researched on these topics has been gathered from internet sources so anything I say could be inaccurate at anytime. This is mostly for fun!
Week 4: The history of knitting
These odd, ancient socks are the earliest knitted items in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s collection and quite possibly the oldest socks in the world. Made in 300-499 AD, these Egyptian socks were excavated in the burial grounds of ancient Oxyrhynchus, a Greek colony on the Nile in central Egypt at the end of the 19th century. They have a divided toe and are designed to be worn with sandals.
Looks like socks and flip flops weren’t always a fashion faux pas!
Knitting is the process of using two or more needles to loop yarn into a series of interconnected loops in order to create a finished garment or some other type of fabric. The word is derived from knot, thought to originate from the Dutch verb knutten. Its origins lie in the basic human need for clothing for protection against the elements. More recently, hand knitting has become less a necessary skill and more a hobby.
The oldest artifact with a knitted appearance is a type of sock. It is believed that socks and stockings were the first pieces produced using techniques similar to knitting. Most histories of knitting place its origin somewhere in the Middle East. From there it spread to Europe by Mediterranean trade routes, and then to the Americas with European colonization. The earliest known examples of knitting have been found in Egypt and cover a range of items, including complex colorful wool fragments and indigo blue and white cotton stockings, which have been dated between the 11th and 14th centuries CE.
The popularity of knitting showed a sharp decline during the 1980s 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 sweater at the same cost of purchasing the wool and pattern themselves, or often for far less.
The 21st century has seen a resurgence of knitting. This resurgence can be noted in part to coincide with the growth of the internet and internet-based technologies, as well as the general “Handmade Revolution!”
Some interesting facts:
- Men were the first to learn how to knit for an occupation.
- There are several European paintings that portray the Virgin Mary knitting and date from the 14th century, including Our Lady Knitting by Tommaso de Modena.
- The first known purl stitches appear in the mid-16th century.
- Knitting schools were established as a way of providing an income to the poor.