The history of knitting is quite a mystery, guessed at from fragments kept in
museums around the world. Knitting is a process using wool, silk, and other
fibres that decay rapidly, even under perfect conditions therefore making it
extremely hard to date it accurately.
There are many sites and books on the history of knitting, many of them
refer to knitting as a fairly knew craft. On carrying out my research I have found
others to contradict this theory.
There is the idea that knitting may be
connected to the ancient skill of
knotting fishing nets. The similarity in
spelling is tempting enough. The
historical view is that knitting was
introduced by Arabian seafarers sailing
and trading in the Middle East and the
Mediterranean. This would tie in well
with the next theory on how knitting
travelled throughout the world.
Many textile historians commonly trace
hand-knitting back to Dura Europos in
the Middle East around 200 AD.
Around 600 AD it is said to have
travelled with the wool trade to Europe,
where it was quickly adopted and
spread to the colonized world.
THE OLD WAY
How to make a fishing net
(Doing the knot)
One view, expressed by The Columbia
Encyclopaedia says that knitting was
unknown in Europe before the 15th, but
throughout the world, including Europe,
archaeologists have unearthed
“knitted” articles from various cultures
in ancient times that don’t match
cleanly with this timeline.
It has also been thought that the
Spanish spread hand-knitting to areas
of Central and South America, knitted
items in these regions have been
discovered dating to around 1100 BC,
which far predates the arrival of the
Spanish, and the articles found in the
Middle East and Egypt. Also, knitted
items from these areas have had
native patterns and colours of their
H ISTORY OF SPIN N IN G AN D KN ITTIN G
T E X T I L E T I M E L I N E F O R A N C I E N T H I S T O R Y
Very interesting timeline found at The New World Encyclopaedia site:
c. 8000 B.C.E. – Evidence of flax cultivation in the Near East.
c. 6500 B.C.E. – Approximate date of Naalebinding examples found in Nehal Hemar cave, Israel. This technique,
which uses short separate lengths of thread, predated the invention of spinning (with its continuous lengths of thread) and
requires that all of the as-yet unused thread be pulled through the loop in the sewn material. This requires much greater
skill than knitting in order to create a fine product.
c. 6000 B.C.E. – Evidence of woven textiles used to wrap the dead at Çatalhöyük in Anatolia.
c. 5000 B.C.E. – Production of linen cloth in Ancient Egypt, along with other bast fibers including rush, reed, palm,
4200 B.C.E. – Date of Mesolithic examples of Naalebinding found in Denmark, marking spread of technology to
c. 3000 B.C.E. – Breeding of domesticated sheep with a wooly fleece rather than hair in the Near East.
200 B.C.E. to 200 C.E. – Approximate date of earliest evidence of “Needle Knitting” in Peru, a form of Naalebinding
that preceded local contact with the Spanish.
British Victoria and Albert Museum. Claim
these are the oldest knitted article in their
collection and date to Coptic Egypt in the 3rd to
5th c. AD but many historians claim they are not
“true” knitting but are made by a craft called
nalbinding which is often talked about as the
predecessor to knitting and crochet.
Often mentioned as Viking knitting it was in
fact also a technique also used by the Romans.
They look very much like crossed-stitch or
The oldest example of socks I
found were 'Coptic socks' from
Egypt, dating to around the
year 1000 CE.
Many of them have blessings
knitted into them in decorative
Arabic script or symbols to
ward off evil.
FIRST TRUE EXAMPLE
SUMMARY IN BRIEF
From the Elizabethan period in
Britain, knitting history is easier to
determine. The development of
knitting was driven by the fashion of
As we approached more modern
times with the industrial revolution
and the two world wars, the history
of knitting, particularly in Britain, is
The story of wool began before recorded
history when primitive man first clothed himself in
the woolly skins, of the wild sheep he killed for food.
Man soon realized that to kill sheep for its meat
alone was a waste of food and material. And once
he became a shepherd with the help of his friend the
dog (probably the only animal to be domesticated
before the sheep) he soon devised a method of
producing clothing from the fleece.
The art of spinning wool into yarn developed
about 4000 B.C. and encouraged trade among the
nations in the region of the Mediterranean Sea.
IN THE BEGINNING
SPINNING INTO THE
After the art of spinning was developed
the loom was invented for weaving spun
wool. Over time both of these systems
were improved upon and used for
thousands of years.
The growth or the British wool industry
fluctuated from around 55BC until the
industrial revolution in the 18th century, due
to multiple invasions and political strife.
The older industries in such areas as East
Anglia, where opposition had been most bitter,
declined and never recovered.
They were overtaken by Yorkshire where
machinery was more readily accepted. The
younger industry jumped ahead and never lost
Other important manufacturing centres
developed in Scotland, famed for its tweeds;
and in the West Country which specialized in
production of high quality woven carpets.
These are the industry's we recognise today.
MACHINERY WINS THE DAY
OOR WOOLIE, YOUR WOOLIE,
SHEARING: Once a year, usually in the warmer months, sheep are
gathered for shearing. A professionally trained shearer is able to shear one
sheep in less than two minutes - 250 sheep in one day.
GRADING: Assessing, by eye and touch, each individual fleece and
placing into groups of the same type and quality, ready for sale by auction.
AUCTION: The Wool Board holds regular auctions throughout the year at
its Bradford headquarters. The wool is sold electronically and bidding is in
pence and half pence per kilo.
SCOURING: Washing the wool to remove the grease and dirt.
CAN I HAVE ONE?
ORIGINS: The Cheviot Sheep Society was
founded in 1890 but it is reported there have been
small, hardy white sheep running in the Cheviot Hills
in the Scottish Borders since records began.
CHARACTERISTICS: A white-faced hill sheep,
with a distinctive ‘ruff’ behind the ears and crisp,
white, lustrous wool. The rams can have horns.
LOCATION: Cheviot Hills, Southern Scotland,
Northumberland, Northern England and South
MAIN USES: Carpets, tweed cloth, knitwear,
ORIGINS: Takes its name from the Romney
Marsh area of South East England, where this breed
has been kept since the 13th century.
CHARACTERISTICS: A hardy, large-framed
lowland sheep, well adapted to tight grazing and
bleak conditions. It has a broad white face and a
woolly ‘top knot’ and heavy white fleece which
contains some lustre.
LOCATION: Mostly in South East England.
MAIN USES: Versatile because of its
characteristics and used in knitwear, blankets and
carpets, depending on its fineness.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
Straight needles: are generally used for flat
knitting — knitting on the right side, and then
turning and knitting on the wrong side.
Circular needles: are simply a pair of
straight knitting needle tips joined by a flexible
cable. You can use a circular needle to knit in the
round — knitting in a continuous, spiral-like
fashion without turning your work.
Double-pointed needles: have a point at
each end and are sold in sets of four or five
needles. They work the same way as a circular
needle — in rounds.