When & Where Did Knitting Begin?

knitting woman

The Knitting Woman by William Adolphe Bouguereau

Have you ever wondered about the history of knitting? Or, when & where the art of knitting began?

Did it start with a half naked cave man or woman?

Or maybe a king or queen?

knitting madonna

Madonna Knitting, by Bertram of Minden 1400-1410

Was it out of necessity to stay warm or for the beauty?

I thought it would be fun to touch on a few fun facts about the history of knitting. Honestly, some of us knitters are so passionate about knitting, we want to know everything about it. If you’re a beginner that passion may not yet have been sparked , but just wait eventually you won’t be able to help yourself.

Because knitting was originally done with natural fibers such as cotton, silk, and wool which decays quickly, there’s not much proof of exactly when knitting began.

Historians believe it to be fairly new, since there are no ancient fairy tales, or stories about the Gods knitting. What we do know is that knitting is considered to have started in the Arab world. Then, it moved into Spain with the Crusades.

original sock

Made between the 11th and 13th centuries C.E.

The word “knit” is derived from Old English cnyttan meaning “to knot” and was not added to the English language until the 1400’s. So I guess it didn’t start with cave women!

Earliest we can go are the nomads in the deserts of North Africa. They used circular or wooden oblong frames and the work was more like bobbin work. Still no one knows when they started using 2 sticks and got rid of the frames.

Historians do have a pair of cotton socks found in Egypt with decorative Arabic script knitted into them to ward off evil spirits that was around the beginning of A.D.. However, the first knitting guild wasn’t started until 1527 in Paris, France.

It’s seems to me, in the past, a woman’s role must have been mostly for the fun of bearing children. Why do I think this? Men were the only chefs. Men were the only one’s allowed to be actors, even in women’s roles. Now I find out, knitting was a male only occupation. However, in recent history, these have been viewed as women’s trades. It’s nice to know in 2015, whether you’re a man or woman, you can do whatever you put our mind to.

          Fun Facts about the History of Knitting

  • Mariam Tegal of the Netherlands is the worlds fastest knitter. She can knit 118 stitches in 1 minute.
  • Linda Benne has been the North American speed knitting champion for the past 10 years. She knits 253 stitches in 3 minutes. (Wow! Now I want to time myself.)
  • Knitting burns 55 calories every 30 minutes. The average sex encounter in the U.S. is 6 minutes and burns 21 calories. That’s nice to know in case you have a choice between the two. What would you choose?
  • Some famous people who knit are Julia Roberts, Vanna White, Cameron Diaz, Sarah Jessica Parker, Julianna Margulies and the list goes on.

We also know that in the early history of knitting, needles were made from bone, ivory or tortoise shells. Animal rights groups today would be outraged. Plus, the first 400-500 years of knitting only cotton and silk were used, not wool.

history of knitting shepard on stilts knits

1855 sketch of a shepherd knitting, while watching his flock.

Shepherds in the Landes swamps in France know as tchangues (‘big legs”) would knit on stilts while they watched their flocks. The need for this ended in the early 20th century because the government planted a forest over the swamps.

Knitting World Records Worth Noting

  • The World record for the most people knitting at the same time was in 2012 at Royal Albert Hall, London. A massive total of 3,083 people knitted together for 15 minutes. That’s a lot of darn people and a lot of yarn.
  • David Babcock finished the Kansas city marathon in 5 hours 48 minutes 27 seconds, while he knit a scarf measuring 12 feet, 1 3/4 inches long.
  • The longest French knitting is 16.36 miles(26.33 km) long. Edward Hannaford from Sittingbourne, UK has been working on the French knitting since 1989 and is still knitting.

There are a ton of facts about knitting. But for today, let me just say, go get some knitting needles and some yarn of your liking. I’d recommend a worsted weight for beginners. Cotton, silk, alpaca, or wool even acrylic yarns can be quite nice. Now Start Knitting! Just do it! It’s fun and so relaxing that it actually helps to lower a person’s blood pressure.

I’d love to hear what you have to say, maybe share a fact about knitting. Leave me a comment and sign up for emails so you don’t miss our next post.

Happy Knitting!

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