Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Our Lady of the Needles (And Other Knit History)

Though I stop to ponder the point less now than I used to, there are still times when I look at the two needles I’m holding, and the yarn looping around them, and I wonder, “Who the hell thought up knitting?”

As far as I can tell it’s not like the craft was some obvious this-leads-to-that sort of development like, say, maybe scooping up sand with a clamshell might have inspired the creation of a human-crafted shovel, or brushing away dirt with a wispy-leafed branch might have acted as catalyst for the invention of brooms.

Contemplating what sometimes seems to be the absurdity of knitting leads me to think of other things that, when analyzed too closely, also seem a little nuts but, when simply practiced, bring great joy. For example: dancing. Do you ever just stop and watch people dance? Really, it can look pretty silly. And yet, when you're engaged in it-- I mean really into the beat-- seems not only normal but like "Why do I not do this every minute of every day-- it feels so good!"

Running also seems mystifying. Many years ago, when a friend first started dragging me around Town Lake because I needed to lose about fifty pounds (which I eventually did), I remember thinking how stupid it seemed. Here were all these folks, walking and running in circles, wearing ridiculous skintight clothes, and seemingly not going anywhere in particular. What a waste of time.

Of course, after a while of doing this activity, I became a big believer, and ultimately I got hooked on walking, which I still try to do every day. I came to understand the power of endorphins, the importance of ritual, and the joy of getting out of the house.

So the reality is, it hasn’t been a huge leap for me to set aside occasional thoughts that knitting is kind of weird, and recognize all the magnificent benefits: the tactile exhilaration, the meditative qualities, the splendid results, and the promising potential of “the next thing I’m going to make…”

Still, I remained curious about the origins of knitting. So I dug around a little, using The Church of the Internet and our good friend Google. I cannot promise the full accuracy of what I uncovered, but below are a few links to sites offering up various takes on Knit History. Beneath the first link, I’m including a couple of facts from the site to whet your appetite—pretty interesting stuff.

Meanwhile, I sure hope you'll post a little about your personal history of knitting here. (Mine includes learning in 1986, getting frustrated, quitting for 14 years, then taking to it like a baby to a bottle of sugar water.)


  • Knitting [the word]… is derived from knot, thought to originate from the Dutch verb knutten, which is similar to the Old English cnyttan, to knot.
  • Most histories of knitting place its origin somewhere in the Middle East, from where it spread to Europe by Mediterranean trade routes, and then to the Americas with European colonization.
  • The earliest known examples of knitting have been found in Egypt and cover a range of items, including complex colorful wool fragments and indigo blue and white cotton stockings, which have been dated between the 11th and 14th centuries CE.
  • Several paintings from Europe portray the Virgin Mary knitting and date from the 14th century, including Our Lady Knitting by Tommaso da Modena (circa 1325-1375).


suealex said...

I grew up crocheting but wanting to knit, feeling so limited by the essence of crochet. I finally learned in grad school when one of my classmates was knitting. She told me she taught knitting classes on the side at HCW, I signed up, and Deb rocked my world. I have been knitting like a crazy person ever since.

Erri Nugraha said...

thx for the post... i'm curious with the history of knitting.