Anyone who loves socks, sweaters, scarves, and big comfy blankets owes a big "Thanks" to the craft of knitting. The repetitive process of creating interlocking loops with yarn and needles is responsible for the most gorgeous and high quality garments in existence.
The word "knit" is believed to come from the word "cnyttan," which means to tie with a knot. "Knit" was added to the dictionary in the 15th century and has taken on several different meanings since that time. Although there is no documentation of an exact date for when the first knitted garment was created, it is believed that it was in the Middle East.
Historians have found evidence that leads them to believe that knitting originated in Egypt between 500 and 1200 AD. Fragments of knitted fabric was discovered in Eastern Syria and are believed to date back to that time period as well. The fragments were crafted from purled and plain wool and are thought to be a type of foot covering.
A sock was found in Egypt that dates back to 1000-1400 AD and uses white and indigo cotton. The designs were very intricate, indicating that an experienced knitter had created it.
Eventually, the craft of knitting was brought to Spain and adopted by the Catholic Church to create garments and accessories. Arab knit silk pillows were found in the tombs of a northern Spain monastery and are believed to date back to the 11th century. Paintings dating in the 13th century showed Mary knitting in a religious setting.
By the 14th century, knitting had spread throughout the rest of Europe and was a popular craft and social activity. Knitting guilds were established with elite membership criteria and gilded knitted garments became status symbols.
As with most handmade techniques, technology was developed to streamline the production of knitted garments. In 1589, the first stocking frame was invented. The knitting machine replicated the movements of a knitter's hand and was able to knit socks. It wasn't long before the circular knitting machine was developed, expanding the type of garments that could be produced with the technology.
Beginning in the 1920s, knitted sweaters and even dresses became a fashion statement. Golf, tennis, and cricket required knitted sweaters and skirts as their dress code of choice. Coco Chanel incorporated knitting into many of her legendary garments and brought the art of knitting to the forefront of fashion. During the Great Depression, many families resorted to knitting their own garments to save on the cost of clothing.
The 1950s brought synthetic yarn, leading to mass produced knit fabrics. Mini skirts, sweaters and sweater dresses dominated the fashion market into the 1970s.
The internet and social media have allowed knitters from around the world to come together. The modern world has paved the way for virtual knitting communities to exist. Experienced knitters make it simple for new knitters to learn through online videos and podcasts. Popular celebrities including Cameron Diaz and Kate Middleton are avid knitters and knitting is no longer a "granny hobby." More accessible and less expensive yarns, such as bamboo, cotton, silk, alpaca, and angora have become popular. Different knitting techniques have been developed. A variety of needles allow for different knitting styles. The craft of knitting has grown and evolved into the very chic hobby it is today.