The word “knitting” comes from knot, believed to derive from the Dutch verb “knutten”. The art of knitting emerged from the people’s necessity for clothing to protect from the elements. Nowadays due to the technological advancements it is no longer an essential skill but more of a hobby. A large number of records we have of knitting put its origin somewhere in the Middle East, from where it then spread to Europe via the trade routes of the Mediterranean, and later on to the Americas via the colonization by the Europeans.
The earliest knitted items we know of are socks from Egypt, believed to be from the 1200 CE. The sophistication of the knitting technique of socks indicates that knitting dates further back from what the archaeological records can establish.
The most early knitted products found in Europe were created by Arab knitters hired by Spanish royalty. Their advanced knitting skills can be traced in several items discovered in the tombs at the Abbey of Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas, a royal monastery, near Burgos, Spain. Most notable are the cushion covers and gloves discovered in the tomb of Prince Fernando de la Cerda. The cushion cover made of silk was knit at around 20 stitches per inch.
Although the mechanical knitting device was invented in 1589 and subsequently improved, the knitting industry didn’t make the transition to factories until the middle 1800s due to the resistance of the knitters.
By the middle of the 19th century, hand knitting became more of a hobby and less important in the knitting industry. Crochet patterns were developed for recreational purposes but also for industrial use by creators like Jane Gaugain.
In the 1920s knitwear became very popular in the majority of the western world. Knitwear evolved into an essential element of the new fashions of the times. For example, knitted neckties became very fashionable in the start of the second decade of the century. Knitwear was often associated with sport and leisure.
High fashion design also adopted knitwear, with Vogue magazine showcasing patterns and Coco Chanel making extensive use of it.
During the World War II knitting became a necessity, and while the wool was in short supply, using wool from old second-hand items was encouraged. Patterns were issued so that people could contribute to the war effort, by knitting Army clothing for the winter such as gloves, socks and balaclavas.
In the 80’s and 90’s alternatives to handknit knitwear were introduced, so the popularity of hand knitting saw a decline. Fashionable designs were sewn from synthetic fabric, and were produced quickly and with great ease with the help of advanced computerized knitting machines.
Nowadays the interest in DIY crafts and the general preference for the “handmade” has brought handknitting back to fashion. With the rise of the internet people can learn the art of knitting and share their patterns, knowledge and ideas. Celebrities like Cameron Diaz and Julia Roberts have helped to popularize the craft, by sharing their love for handknitting with the world. We also see more and more men showing their interest for the art.