A Brief History of Knitwear

The origins of knitting can be traced back hundreds of years and the skill is thought to have been developed in the Middle East. It’s amazing that a traditional way of making garments is still used, and very much in fashion, today in 2016! It’s not just knitwear that is popular but the hobby of knitting too, which is steeped in history. Even though we all know grannies are the best at knitting, many young men and women have taken up the therapeutic pastime, including celebrities such as David Arquette, Dakota Fanning and Christina Hendricks.

Early Knitting

Knitted items such as cushion covers and gloves have been found in tombs in historic monasteries in Spain. The findings belong to the tomb of Prince Fernando de la Cerda, who died in 1275 and are thought to be some of the earliest knitted items in Europe.

Several paintings from the 14th century also place knitting in the spotlight, some of which depict the Virgin Mary knitting. The findings of knitted treasures all over Europe prove that the skill was widespread or that knitted goods were exported all over the continent and widely used.

Mechanical Knitting

With the industrial revolution came the ability to produce everything faster and cheaper with the help of factories. The mechanical knitting machine was invented in 1589, however knitting machines and operators didn’t transfer to factories until the 19th century. By this time, hand knitting was declining as part of the clothing industry but was still a hobby for many.

Hobbyist Knitting

Knitwear became a popular fashion during the 1920s, as before it was only really used for underwear, cushions and blankets. Knitted sweaters became the fashionable symbol of golf and designers such as Coco Chanel decided to incorporate knitwear in their collections.

As a hobby, knitting saw a surge in popularity during the First World War. People were encouraged to knit socks as there was a shortage, and yarn companies were started to support home knitters. When the Depression hit in the 30s, people had no choice but to make their own clothes at home as it was much cheaper than buying manufactured garments.

By the 1960s, knitting was seen as a highly useful skill and not just a hobby and it was even taught in schools. Magazines focusing on knitting and needlework were distributed around the UK, offering ideas for different stitches. However, through to the 1990s knitting was considered old fashioned and in fashion, knitwear was replaced by sweatshirts and synthetic fabrics.

So where are we at now? Knitting has been kept alive by those who were taught in the 60s and 70s and has made a comeback! The internet has brought together knitting communities and made yarn and other knitting essentials more available. Knitting is a popular hobby with all ages and knitwear is a winter fashion staple.