Welcome to the newest series! Crafting In History will be a glimpse into the birth of your favorite crafts and crafting supplies! Myself and my glorious historian of a partner, Dan, have done the research so you don’t have to! This time, we took a look into the history of knitting.
What Is Knitting?
Knitting is one of the most popular fiber crafts. Knitting is the process of creating loops of yarn on a pair of needles and making interlocking rows to create a pattern. There are different techniques and supplies that make knitting a very versatile and tricky craft to master.
But where did knitting come from? Who was the person that first started this fiber art phenomenon? How did people knit in ancient times?
The Origins Of Knitting
Most likely inspired from nålbinding, knitting originated in the Middle East hundreds of years ago, with most surviving artifacts being found in Egypt and Syria. Knitting wasn’t a hobby - it was a highly desired craft that was necessary for survival. Without any mass-created clothing factories, people had to rely on the fiber artisans in their communities for knitted and woven clothes.
Knitting was all done by hand using homemade tools. People would carve needles out of wood, ivory, metal, or bone and use natural wool, silk, or cotton fibers that they had to harvest and spin themselves. Talk about dedication to the craft!
The oldest example of knitting is a pair of cotton socks from Egypt, dated 1100-1300 AD. Many knitted pieces have been lost to time due to their natural fibers as they have decayed naturally over the centuries. The knitted pieces that archeologists have found have intricate religious or spiritual patterns knitted into the piece. These pieces were clearly important to the culture. If a piece wasn’t important to me, I would not spend hours painstakingly knitting little patterns!!
Knitting was introduced from the Middle East to Europe sometime after the 5th century, most likely by wool traders. Each European country had some type of traditional fiber art, but knitting quickly became a fan favorite - especially in Ireland and Scotland!
From there, knitting was introduced to the rest of the crafting world!
Who Was Knitting?
Sadly, we have no clue who the first knitter in history was or who invented knitting. The name of the original creative master has been lost to time, as well as the inspiration of the craft. Their creativity has been passed down from generation to generation - and we are very lucky that knitting was not lost to time!
In ancient times, most people had to know some fiber art out of necessity. In every household, most people knew how to sew or knit so that they could mend their clothes. There was no Macys or quick mall-stop for these people. Every piece of clothing had to be hand made, whether that be by weaving, looming, or knitting.
Knitters were viewed as highly skilled and sought-after artisans. Whole families became knitters to support themselves and their wares helped the whole communities. Winter weather became a little more manageable with the creation of thick knitted sweaters, socks, mittens, and hats. Farmers had another avenue to sell their animal’s fiber with the uptick of demand for warm wool in the winter and breathable cotton or silk in the warmer months.
The upper crust of society became interested in knitting. The royal family of Spain was known for their guild of Muslim knitters from the Middle East that created them wildly intricate pieces from expensive textiles.
Once knitting was introduced to Europe, knitting guilds began to appear. By the 1200s, knitting guilds were easily found in areas of Germany, France, England, Ireland, and Scotland. These guilds were often difficult to join and knitters had to prove their prowess before they would be considered a member.
And just like that, over a few hundred years - knitting went from being a necessity for survival to being a profitable craft that could support artisans and their families.