It’s always been about wool

What is knitting?

If you’ve ever wondered where the word comes from (or even if you haven’t) here’s a quick overview:

The word is derived from knot and ultimately from the Old English cnyttan, to knot.

Nålebinding (Danish: literally “binding with a needle” or “needle-binding”) is a fabric creation technique predating both knitting and crochet. That said, one of the earliest known examples of true knitting was cotton socks with stranded knit color patterns found in Egypt from the end of the first millennium AD.

The first commercial knitting guilds appear in Western Europe in the early fifteenth century (Tournai in 1429, Barcelona in 1496). The Guild of Saint Fiacre was founded in Paris in 1527 but the archives mention an organization (not necessarily a guild) of knitters from 1268.

With the invention of the knitting machine, knitting “by hand” became a craft used by country people with easy access to fiber. Similar to quilting, spinning, and needlepoint, hand knitting became a leisure activity for the wealthy.

It seems that we’ve moved on a lot from this leisure activity for the wealthy. When I was at primary school, all jumpers and cardigans were knitted – not from choice – but from necessity. It simply wasn’t an option to buy a school jumper so we were forced to wear the you’ll-grow-into-it knitted garment. This may explain why a whole generation or more had an aversion to home made knitwear made out of scratchy  wool/acrylic and why now, when we choose to knit or crochet, we are choose yarn that is the very opposite of utility yarn. Whilst it may no longer be the past-time of the wealthy, there’s no denying that wool can be very expensive – but it doesn’t need to be.

We’ve been buying inexpensive wool/acrylic mixes for our next project which is all about shape and colour. Perhaps, importantly, we are thinking creatively about how to use our colours, and again, perhaps most importantly of all, we are thinking as a group of workers with wool.

Often, I look around at us all knitting and crocheting in the common room and am reminded of how many artists have chosen the knitter as inspiration. Is it the tranquility of features absorbed in the task? Is it something about the posture of the knitter, the bent neck, the symmetry of hands at work? Is it perhaps the contrast between sitter and their environment? For us, it is all of these things and a great deal more.