Monday, 9 November 2009

Knitting, anyone?

For years now, I have successfully been a non-knitter. I just never did it. I had not learned in school how to knit (they only taught us crocheting), and I had only made one short and unsuccessful try to learn it back years ago, when I was still caught in puberty. The technique somehow never appealed to me enough to fiddle my way through it, and I could remember from my one try that it was really difficult to catch those pesky loops of the stitches and that I didn't know what to do when one of them slipped.

And then, when I started out in the textile archaeology field, knitting was said not to come up before the later middle ages, and not properly before early modern ages, when it somehow becomes all the rage and Knitter's Guilds form and those guildmembers knit amazing things. So I had a perfect excuse for not knitting: a, there are more than enough people around who know how to knit and do it (and teach it), so there's no danger of the technique dying out; and b, I had more than enough other techniques that were less modern and less well known already. And c, I didn't want to do things in techniques that can fall apart so easily just by pulling on the working thread (yes, you have to take out all the needles before that too, I know).

But. But. Knitting has actually been found dating back to the 13th century (in a German well, of all places). Knitting is a problem for the textile archaeologist because it can be unraveled so easily. The wherefrom and why of the development of knitting is still not known to historians. I like a good scientific unknown - it always reeks of challenge for me. And then there are the socks, which I admit I love. Hand-knitted, nicely patterned, woolen socks... aah.

And then there was the Textile Forum, where a lot of truly awesome knitting went on inbetween all the other things. Fine woolen yarns! Intricate patterning! Really really thin "knitting needles" that were sold to the knitter as "a bit of copper alloy wire"! This all smelled like a challenge and a fascinating opportunity for some full-scale madness much too much for me to resist.

So I have finally given in and learned how to knit. And I have discovered some of the fascination of knitting for myself...

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Whoohaahaa, welcome to the dark side. Knitting is very relaxing and easy to take with you. That and nalbinding are the best traveling projects. So enjoy. Before long you'll be doing that twined knitting Viktoria showed us.

Harma

a stitch in time said...

Hah, yes, I will frankly admit that I was a bit jealous of you all - Viktoria showing you some weird Scandinavian technique, and I was missing out!
And yes, I rather like the idea of travel-friendly work, all the rest of my projects are not as easy to take with me. Back in my wild starting days of tablet weaving, I tried to weave on a train once... and that was not very successful. Especially not if you don't have a loomy thing but tie your weaving to the seat in front of you...

Machteld said...

Knitting is fun, allthough I mostly knit modern stuff.

I'd love to know more about that find from the German well: do you have a reference?

Chris Laning said...

Ditto on wanting the reference from the German well. I know there's a 13th century scrap from one of the Baltic countries (too lazy to look it up at the moment!), and then of course there are the knitted gloves and pillow covers from mid-1200s Spain.

A couple of resources you might like: the HistoricKnit mailing list has been in existence for several years and has LOTS of excellent information in its archives.

I will also (modestly) point out an article on medieval Islamic knitting and a pattern for a 15th/16th century stocking (in coarse yarn, however).

a stitch in time said...

Aah, the reference. Well, yes, I have it. The book is in one of the boxes stacked here, but fortunately, I have a bibliography database, so here you are:
MÖLLER-WIERING, SUSAN: "Ein frühes Gestrick aus Schleswig." In BENDER JØRGENSEN, LISE, BANCK-BURGESS, JOHANNA und RAST-EICHER, ANTOINETTE (Hrsg.), Textilien aus Archäologie und Geschichte. Festschrift für Klaus Tidow. Neumünster 2003. 186-192.
I hope I did remember correctly that this is the knitted piece I was thinking of...

Marije said...

Maybe you are also interested in the following books: A History of Hand Knitting by Richard Rutt and Mit Nadeln und Faden by M.Stradal & Ulrike Brommer. Both date knitting to be even earlier 10-12th century (Egypt) and 13th century spain (in Rutt).

Machteld said...

Thanks for the references!

a stitch in time said...

Thanks for the book titles, Marije! I'll look into it once I find the time. I'm habitually wary, though, if knitting is dated back to before 13th century and then set into Egypt - there are still a lot of references around from back when knitting was confused with nalbinding, and they can end up cited in knitting books...

Marije said...

I understand what you mean, frequently knitting and nalebinding are confused, especially in older books. But from what I could make out, the 12th century socks are really knitted, but then again I am not an expert. The 13th century Spanish find is a pillow cushion. So my theory is that the craft of knitting moved upwarts through Europe. Here is something I wrote about knitting in medieval times http://www.de_zwarte_zwaan.dds.nl/index2.html alas it is in Dutch but just follow the red links in the text, most of them are in English.

Louise Schelde said...

There are also survieving knitted relique purses from Switzerland and Spain from the 13th century. The knitting is made with very thin sticks and very fine bright coloured silks. See the forum from my group to se some pics - http://www.aarhus-middelalder.dk/forum/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=1240

Here ind Denmark we also have a small childrens cap from the 13-14th century. In is situated in the museum in Randers, Jutland.

Kruliczyca said...

Thanks so much for this post that caused so much valuable comments (I mean all those reference and resources). I've been interested in this matter for a while and this all will help to complement my knowlege.