Knitting has been practised for thousands of years. Although knitting is now mainly seen as a hobby, many years ago knitting was a necessity for making clothes. No one really knows when or where people first started knitting. However, most histories of knitting place its origin somewhere in the Middle East, from where 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 colourful wool fragments and indigo blue and white cotton stockings, which have been dated between the 11th and 14th centuries .
In the Middle Ages, knitting became an important industry. The manufacture of stockings was particularly important in Britain (not surprising really, given the weather) and a number of knitting schools were established. Suprisingly, it was men not women who were the first to make a career in knitting! Knitting was a huge occupation among those living on the Scottish Isles during the 17th and 18th centuries and whole families were involved in making sweaters, accessories, socks, stockings, etc. Fair Isle techniques were used to create elaborate colorful patterns. Sweaters were necessary garments for the fishermen of these islands because the natural oils within the wool provided some element of protection against the harsh weather encountered while out fishing.
Then in 1589, an English Clergyman by the name of William Lee created the first knitting machine. His machine was designed to make stockings and 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 and as a result, commercial knitting centres developed in places such as Nottingham and Leicester in England. Even with the availability of knitting machines, hand knitting was regarded as a useful skill. For example, during the 1940s the British wartime government encouraged women to knit items for soldiers to help the war effort. They knitt such items as socks, helmets, scarves ,gloves and pullovers.
During the 1960s and 70s knitting remained popular and girls were still taught how to knit in school (ı was one of them and really don’t like the thought of being part of history LOL). Various knitted items became fashionable, especially the twinset (a matching short sleeved top and cardigan) yep! I can remember wearing them too. 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. Knitting was also regarded as out of date, old fashioned.
Recently knitting has seen a remarkable resurgence. An increased interest in traditional values and a simpler slower speed life (or downshifting) have contributed towards this. And no doubt the celebrity knitters have also helped to bring this hobby back into the public eye,in fact there has been quite a bit of publicity surrounding celebrities who love to knit. Many, like Julia Roberts who knits on film sets and happily teaches others, this fascinated her costar Cameron Diaz so much she eventually also learned to knit. Other celebrity knitters include Madonna, Dakota Fanning (who knitted a scarf for Denzel Washington’s wife), Catherine Zeta-Jones, Winona Ryder, Brooke Shields, Geri Halliwell, Uma Thurman, Lisa Kudrow, Goldie Hawn, and Sarah Jessica Parker has been repeatedly photgraphed while knitting.
The thing that made knitting so popular when it was invented, is what makes it popular even today - it's simplicity. With two sticks and some string, you can create literally any article of clothing (And not only is that simple, it's pretty darn cool !). We occasionally add a new technique, but for the most part knitting is the same as twelve hundred years ago. Knitwear is as popular as ever, if not more so; people learn to knit daily, and classes are booming. Scientists have begun knitting nylon arteries to transplant into bodies. It will be interesting to see where knitting will go next.
This short history of knitting shows that hand knitting has had its ups and downs. No matter what the current status of knitting popularity is, hand knitting is an amazing craft that has been going for thousands of years and is definitely here to stay!