Thursday, December 23, 2010

Sticks and Yarn

Knitting: how did it ever get started? Did people use twigs, perhaps bones? And the yarn itself - when did spinning fiber into strands become commonplace? These questions were on my mind last week as I tried my hand at knitting. I was visiting Mom in New York, and she was recuperating from a hospital stay, so I had some time on my hands. Mom is much better now and I'm back in Texas getting ready for Christmas. I've not gotten very far on a narrow blue scarf, but I am intrigued and hope to keep learning this ancient womanly art. I've been a crocheter since college and do find knitting to be much slower than crochet, but both have their appropriate uses. Knitting is known for its ability to stretch as needed. Crocheting is great for intricate open designs.

As it turns out, knitting was not always done with two needles. Rather, it is thought to have started with a single needle, employing a series of knots or loops. There was also a technique known as nalbinding that could be confused with knitting, so in some ways knitting's exact train of origins remains unknown. Socks are among the first known knitted items, dating back as far as nine or ten centuries ago. In the OED, the word 'knitting' dates back only to the 1400s. Egypt/the Middle East is the place knitting (using cotton or silk, not wool) is thought to have started, later spreading to Europe and the American colonies. In the Scottish Isles, woolen goods became an important, highly developed craft. The origins there may have been related to the knot making done by fishermen. During the Middle Ages in Europe, there were knitting guilds. In other times, being trained in knitting was promoted as a way for poor people (both men and women) to make money. Of course, eventually the Industrial Revolution came along and now we all take machine-knit goods for granted. My curiosity about the first knitting needles still remains partially unsatisfied. Mysterious and ancient, knitting makes me feel connected to centuries of peoples past, clicking away by candlelight and moonlight......

Spinning began with the spindle and distaff, later evolving towards the spinning wheel and the spinning mule. I've never tried hand spinning, but know it has experienced a revival in the last few decades. I'm not sure I'll ever have the patience for it, but appreciate the unique results artisans are able to achieve by starting from scratch. I learned that yarn itself is much older than the art of knitting, having been dated back some 20,000 years to the Upper Paleolithic era. Primitive people are thought to have rolled tufts of animal hair or plant fiber down their thighs to make yarn, then winding it onto stones. It is fascinating to think what a breakthrough this simple act may have been.

Interestingly, crocheting dates back only to the 19th century, when it became known as a less expensive method for lace making. When I was in college, many of my friends crocheted and we wiled away many an hour making mittens, shawls, hats and purses. During my years at West University Library, I taught a coworker, Bill, how to crochet. He took it up with zeal and far surpassed my level of expertise. He then stepped up to knitting and eventually bought a knitting machine. He would even crochet or knit at stoplights on the way to work! And he learned if he took his knitting with him when called up for jury duty, he never got picked for a jury. Bill gave me a lovely, elaborate crocheted doily when he retired.

At this time of the season, I would be remiss if I did not offer my thanks to all who read my humble blog. I always loved doing reports as a child in school, especially the kind where I got to do artwork as a part of the project. Sitting down to blog is a weekly ritual I enjoy, giving me an excuse to marry words and images together. I am thankful that Harris County Public Library required staff to learn how to blog some 3 or 4 years ago. Blogging helps me stay focused. It keeps my language skills polished (to some extent), and hopefully givers readers content they can use or enjoy. Thanks especially to all who took the time to make comments this year. Happy holidays!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello Keddy-
I was knitting my zillionth wool (no acrylics need apply) scarf with 2 cables and some easy stockinette stitches when I came across your blog on Facebook. Good information and beautifully expressed. Merry Christmas!
Kathleen (Edmond) Drost