I looked into the St Dunstan’s Church Centre at Feltham recently, and there enjoying cups of coffee were a number of ladies busy knitting.
I have always had an admiration for those who are able to hold a conversation while in their hands are knitting needles going ninety to the dozen as the saying goes.
It reminded me of my dear mother who was very proficient and both knitting and crochet work. At one time as soon as it was announced in the family that a new baby was on its way, out came the needles and it seemed in no time at all a baby’s layette was produced.
Knitting goes back a long way in world history. A type of sock was found going back to the 3rd/5th century which had been produced in Egypt.
It appears that knitting started in the Middle East and probably spread to Europe via the trade routes. Knitted garments dating from the 14th cent have been found in the cathedral archives in Spain with a number of these items having been worked with silk rather than yarn.
Several paintings of the Virgin Mary portray Mary apparently knitting. One by Tommaso da Moderna (circa 1325-1375) is called “Our Lady Knitting” and on an altar piece by Master Bertram of Minden (1400-1410)the Virgin appears with her needles.
It is recorded that Queen Elizabeth I wore silk stockings that had been knitted for her, as they of better quality than woolen ones and proabably not so itchy.
Knitting was not only the skill of ladies but also of men. A very dear uncle in my family who unfortunately lost both his legs in the First World War, was taught to knit as a therapy and became quite expert. I remember he taught my mother how to do cable stitch and for ever afterwards jumpers made for us by mother included cables.
In the 17th-18th centuries knitting became an industry for those living in the Scottish islands. Heavy sweaters were made for the fishermen the oil contained in the wool helping keep out the cold in the harsh enviroment of the North Sea.
The Fair Isle patterns of using colourful wools in jumpers became very popular all over and I remember sporting a couple of these my self as a young man.
In the Second World War and times of shortages, many old woolen garments were unravelled and the wool used to make “new” items.
Often these would be socks or scarves and balaclavas or gloves for the troops or in some cases large jumpers for the seafarers.
Knitting was once taught in schools to both girls and boys, but these days computers are more in fashion for young people.
Following the war times and before other materials became available, the twin set was popular anonst the ladies of the time. These were either self knitted or purchased at shops where the owner may have produced the items themselves and worn with a string of pearls or beads. Knitting machines flooded the market and were well used. During the
1980s-90s knitting as a hobby declined with different materials becoming available and ladies fashions dictated otherwise, but signs are that knitting is having a revival. With wool from alpaca, angora and even yak, needles are being found in the backs of draws and brought out to engage in the art of knitting. It has been reported that men too are being drawn into the skills of “one purl one plain”
What a pity I gave all my mother’s needles away.