A cosy History of Knitting
The mindful hobby of knitting has seen a recent resurgence amongst younger women including celebrities such as Cara Delevingne, Christina Hendricks and Kate Moss. Knitting was seen as a utilitarian craft for much of the twentieth century supported by cheap yarns but it slumped when wool prices increased in the 80’s and 90’s. A myriad of designers including Noro, Louisa Harding, and Alice Starmore have now married colourful, wonderfully textured yarns and design to enable the knitter to produce well-fitted exquisite garments at home. This has been aided by the introduction of some lovely exotic yarns including Llama, Alpaca, yak and increased use of softer Merino wool and local specialities such as tweed.
As you sit and knit gently focusing your fingers on the stitches, feeling the gorgeous texture, observing the soothing colours of the wool and the faint aroma of lanolin; you might consider the women who practiced the craft before you and would probably assume that knitting is extremely ancient given that it involves the use of two sticks and yarn. In fact, this is not quite the case.
The first knitting involved just one stick and was called nalbinding, a Danish word meaning needle binding. It was first practiced in South America (from 300 BC) and Coptic Egypt (around 400 AD and was well known in Scandinavia from the Viking era. Appearances wise, it looks very much like knitting but it is dissimilar in that it uses short strands of yarn and feeds them through the stitches.
The first known true knitting comes from Egypt at around 1000 AD and consists of intricate two-coloured socks including a blessing for the wearer. Given the level of skill involved in making these garments, it is highly unlikely that these were really anything like the real first socks.
The true origins must be a good deal earlier and remain hidden due to the delicate nature of yarn which means it can only survive long periods in extremely dry climates or occasionally very wet ones.
Knitting seems to have spread in late medieval times from the Middle East into Moorish Spain and onto Northern Europe. It was rumoured to have been imported to Scottish Islands by Spanish survivors of the Armada in Elizabethan times.
Regional styles developed apace in Europe during the nineteenth century and in colder climates the colourful Fair Isle style developed where two strands of colour were carried along the rows creating beautiful images and double thick warmth.
This is the ideal time to knit a warm, soft scarf and it is not so hard to learn even as an adult as I did and there are groups of knitters that meet all over the world and enjoy a cup of tea (or perhaps coffee) and a chatter. Have a warm week.