From Egyptian socks to medieval guilds.
I've recently entered what looks to become an annual knitting frenzy, as I work against the clock to make holiday gifts. While my fingers fly, my mind wanders to the history of this craft. And so, perhaps not surprisingly, when I put my sticks down and come to the library, I seek knitting history resources in NYPL’s collections.
The invention of knitting remains a mystery, but, according to Vogue Knitting, the earliest knitters were probably men, while women spun the thread and yarn used in knitted goods. The Mediterranean has been called “the cradle of knitting” because sailors and traders of this region spread knowledge of this craft far and wide. The earliest example of knitting to have survived is a pair of socks uncovered in Egypt, dating from 1200-1500 AD.
The history of knitting remains largely undocumented until the creation of knitting guilds throughout Renaissance Europe. These guilds demanded that a new knitter spend six years in training. The proof of a new guild member’s mastery was shown when he could, in the course of 13 weeks, create “a felted cap, a pair of stockings or gloves with embroidered decoration, a shirt or waistcoat, and a knitted carpet” elaborately decorated with flora and fauna. From here, it’s a short trip to a discussion of the rise of fancy lace hose, the creation of the knitting machine, and knitting for patriotism, all covered tidily in Vogue Knitting.
Here are two additional book recommendations for you. Come in and read No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting at NYPL’s Schwarzman Building It’s stored offsite, so order it ahead of time (learn how here!). History of Knitting Before Mass Production is another useful source, and it can be found at NYPL’s Science, Industry, and Business Library.