Monday, June 10, 2013

Knitting--An Ancient Craft by Leanne Dyck

I wrote this article (in 2004) for a blog. Then I received an email from Judy Brown request it to be included in her (at the time soon-to-be published) book:  Knitting Notes:  A Journal of Knitting Memories (published in 2006)

Well, I was thrilled--and so it was....

Just a word of caution:
Research, research, research... I wish I'd checked my facts a little better before writing this article (but you live and you learn). 

'This book is a practical, personal journal and project workbook for knitters of all skill levels. It's written in a warm, personable style, filled with useful advice, and is fun to read. The Retro styled, covered-spiral binding looks good on a shelf, but will lay flat for easy writing.'  (quote from Amazon)

Knitting -- An Ancient Craft

There is some speculation that Stone Age man wore knitted garments; but, the oldest knitted garment on record was found in Egypt and dates back to 6th Century, AD. The small red socks were made in twisted stockinette stitch, with a silk fragment knit in two colours.

The first item found on Canadian soil, was a knitted cap fragment discovered at Red Bay, Labrador, formerly a 16th-century Basque whaling site.

Knitting in Canada was influenced by many cultures:  Native, British, French, Icelandic, and the Vikings are said to have knit on Canadian soil. These legendary seamen traveled from Norway via Iceland and settled L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland and Labrador. (I later learnt that the Viking craft was nalbinding not knitting) Unfortunately, their knitted garments have not survived (possible because there weren't any), but the Viking influence lives on in our patterns of yoked Icelandic sweaters and the use of Lopi yarn. (Sorry, Iceland).

For over one hundred years, West Coast Salish women have been knitting Cowichan sweaters and blankets. Some knitted items were presented as gifts to royalty and heads of state. Genuine Cowichan sweaters are knit with un-dyed yarn. The sweaters are water-resistant because the natural oils are retained in the wool.

Knitting was, at first, considered to be a humble craft in Europe; however, when Queen Elizabeth the First started wearing knitted stockings, the craft gained favour and was, henceforth, looked upon as being quite a fashionable hobby. During the 16th century, when silk began to be used in knitted garments. Princes and Bishops were delighted by the new art-form and the terms we use today date back to this period garter and stockinette (stocking) stitch are but two examples.

17th century Knitting Guilds were not fun places to click and chat; members had to make a serious commitment to the craft. The membership was largely made up of men. In fact, to qualify for membership, members had to invest the same amount of time in the guild that it takes today to become a doctor.

There are many legends surrounding this ancient craft. One legend concerns the origin of the Aran sweater, identified by the highly decorative stitch patterns. There is some dispute as to when the first Aran sweater was designed and more than one theory to explain the reasoning behind the intricate patterns.

One theory has it that the sweater was designed during the 1920s and the intricate stitch pattern was simply a matter of pride. The sweater was presented to upon partaking of their first Holy Communion. Grandma was thrilled to invest time and effort to celebrate such an important event.

Another theory maintains the design is much older and dates back to the Middle Ages. The stitches on each sweater were said to be helpful in identifying drowned bodies.

Whether it is the fishing village depicted by the horizontal patterns of the English and east-coast Scottish knitters, or the family occupation as depicted by the vertical pattern of the Irish and west-coast Scottish knitters, unique stitches in the sweaters ensured that bodies of loved-ones could be easily identified and then claimed. It's anyone's guess as to which legend is factual. 

Every time we make a stitch, we contribute to the history of knitting. Teach two to knit, and you ensure that our craft will not fade into history.
Next post:  Secrets of Successful Blogging


Laurie Buchanan said...

Your enticing posts come REALLY REALLY close to making me take up knitting!

Leanne Dyck said...

: ) Come on over to the dark side, Laurie. (emits evil laugh)