Ash, talk to me about the history of knitting



do you know what’s really interesting? how old most of knitting isn’t. also we don’t know a lot about it because women, because textiles, because wool decomposes surprisingly quickly

we know that there was a craft which the vikings called nalebinding (that’s supposed to have strange diacritics i can’t do) which involves working loops of yarn into a fabric with a single large blunt darning needle – we know the ancient egyptians did it, and the romans, but we don’t really know where it started and how it spread, and the same technique is also used in south america and seems to be almost as old. like drop spindle spinning, this is probably something that was so obvious to people working with fibre that it sprung up a lot of places around the same time independently.

for reference, the oldest nalebinding we have preserved is an egyptian sock, and it’s about 3rd century ce. we have no idea how recent the technology was then, or how long the vikings were doing it, because deserts preserve clothing and clay doesn’t and so far we haven’t found a bog body or tundra mummy wearing socks – but given that every time we do find a bog body or tundra mummy textile historians have to go “holy shit we were centuries out on this technology, humans had figured out multi-colour pattern weaving hundreds of years before we thought they had!” (actual example) i’m going to go out on a limb and say a really long time. we’ve been doing this for a really long time.

so, 3rd century

then, skip forward a thousand years and you’ve got two needle, multi-coloured knitted textiles from the middle east preserved in spain, and we have no idea what happened in the mean time. afgan or tunisian crochet, which involves working stitches onto and off of a long handled hook, is sometimes thought to be the ancestor craft of knitting on needles, but we just don’t know.

all of europe is knitting by the 14th century. they figure out knitting in the round before they figure out purl stitches. earliest known purl stitches, as well as earliest known lace knitting, are – get this – eleanor of toledo’s red funeral stockings. i’m not a fan of grave robbing but when the italian government decided to exhume all the medicis and re-bury them sans-clothing, they did costume historians a massive favour

fair isle – stranded colourwork – develops in scotland in the 18th century, i don’t know about the scandinavian equivalent but it’s probably about as old. did the two evolve independently? did they influence each other? we don’t know.

cables don’t get invented until the early 20th century

knitwear is very popular in the ’20s, and knitting is super popular – but by modern standards, rudimentary – well into the 60’s. and then it declines, until the 00’s when it comes back in a big way, and we invent a whole lot of seriously revolutionary stuff

so, basically, the technological advances made in the last hundred years are greater than the thousand years of knitting before it. but i hate purl stitches too, so i don’t blame them


1. it’s presumed to be women’s work for most of history then BAM in Europe in the Middle Ages, men are like “wait we can make loads of money off this” and pushed the women over and ran off with ALL THE NEEDLES. Why? because SOCKS GOT IMPORTANT all of a sudden. 

What do you do if something is profitable in medieval Europe? You make a male-only guild, keep your techniques and discoveries a ~secret~, demand that knitters only be taken seriously if they knit you a carpet, only sell goods to approved traders and otherwise totally control the trade. From the 1400s to about the 1600s knitting was a SERIOUS MAN THING TO MAKE MAN MONEY NO GIRLS ALLOWED – women could knit for their families but only men could create and sell the VERY SPECIAL SOCKS. but then people got really into other stuff and shit moved on and the sock meme got embarrassing, so women eventually reclaimed knitting. it was a weird time 

and now we have the Hogwarts House Challenges on Ravelry. we’ve recreated knitting guilds as a feminine fandom thing. this is also a weird time

2. since all the wool rotted, a lot of our conclusions about European knitting come from contemporary paintings. what are medieval European paintings usually about? idk ask medievalpoc but you already know the answer is THE VIRGIN MARY USUALLY.





Some of these are from but you can also just google “knitting madonna” for some wild times


Look at this stitch’n’bitch happening

“mary who the fuck you makin that sock for ain’t nobody got a foot like that”

“shut the fuck up mags you KNOW jesus got weird feet”

Susanna in the corner going “is this a euphemism?”