history of knitting

A Short History of Knitting

Ever wondered about the history of knitting? Knitting has been practiced for thousands of years. Although knitting is now mainly seen as a hobby, in days gone by knitting was necessary for making clothes.

Where did knitting start?

No one knows when or where people first started knitting or who invented knitting. However, various early knitted garments have been found. The earliest known knitted items are some knit socks found in Egypt which date back to the 11th Century.

The picture above a knitting Madonna from the 14th Century depicts the Virgin Mary knitting and it shows how early knitting had spread across Europe.

Knitting in the Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, knitting flourished and became an important industry. The manufacture of stockings was particularly important in Briton, not surprising really, given the weather! There were even a number of knitting schools were established. Although nowadays you may think of a knitting woman, it was men (and not women) who were the first to make a career in knitting!

Knitting Guilds

Knitting guilds began to form in the Middle Ages as a way to protect the secrets of knitting and to ensure that only those who could knit proficiently were able to produce garments. The guilds also served as a social outlet for knitters, and provided a way for them to share new techniques and patterns.

Knitting guilds continue to play an important role in the knitting community today. They offer a sense of community and support to knitters of all levels, from beginners to experts. They also provide education and training opportunities, as well as resources and networking opportunities.

Knitting Looms

A knitting loom is a tool that is used to produce knitted fabrics. They were first used by the Dutch in the early 1500s, and have been in use ever since. There are many different types of knitting looms, and they can be made from a variety of materials.

The advent of Knitting Machines

Then in 1589, an English Clergyman by the name of William Lee created the first mechanical knitting machine. His machine was designed to make stockings from knitted fabric and was a truly remarkable invention. Many modern knitting machines are still based on the technology used in William Lee’s original model. 

A circular knitting machine was invented in the 19th Century and this made the manufacture of hosiery possible. As a result, commercial knitting centres developed in places such as Nottingham and Leicester in England. Knitting machines have come a long way over the years, and machine knitting continues to evolve with the times.

Fair Isle Knitting

With the advent of the industrial revolution, hand knitting grew less popular but it still continued. Over time, recognisable regional patterns emerged like the well-known “Fair Isle” pattern, particularly

Fair isle knitting is a type of colorwork knitting that originated in the Shetland Islands. It uses two or more colors of yarn to create patterns and designs. The most common type of fair isle knitting is done with two colors, but it can also be done with three or more colors.

Knitting in the second world war

Even with the availability of knitting machines, hand knitting was regarded as a useful skill. For example, during the 1940s, the British Wartime Government department encouraged women to knit items for soldiers to help the war effort. 

Knitting in the 1960s and 70s

During the 1960s and 70s knitting remained popular and girls were still taught how to knit in school. Various hand knitted items became a fashion necessity, especially the twinset (a matching short sleeved top and cardigan).

Knitting in the 1980s

The decline of knitting began in the 1980s when you could buy a machine knit garment for less than the price of knitting the same item yourself.  As a result, any hand knitted garment was regarded as out of date.

Knitting since 2000

Since the turn of the century, knitting has seen a remarkable resurgence. An increased interest in traditional values and a simpler life lived at a slower speed (or downshifting) have contributed towards this.  No doubt the celebrity knitters, like Tom Daley, have also helped to bring this hobby back into the public eye.

Whatever the current status of knitting popularity, the art of knitting has been going for thousands of years. Knitting is definitely here to stay.

Learning more about the history of knitting

If you are interested in finding out more about the history of knitting then I highly recommend visiting the Victoria & Albert Museum which has knitted objects from the 12th century to the present day and represents knitting traditions from around the world.

So, there you have it, a short history of knitting. I hope you enjoyed reading and perhaps learnt something new about this fascinating subject. Until next time, happy knitting!