History of knitting, from knotted nets and knitted socks to knitting guilds

History of knitting, from knotted nets and knitted socks to knitting guilds

We researched many of the great knitting sites on the net and other historical references for information on the history of knitting. Most of them cited a similar story from which we were able to establish this basic knitting history.

Knotted nets

Among many other theories, there is supposition that knitting may be connected to the ancient skill of knotting fishing nets. The similarity in spelling is tempting enough. And this concurs with the historical view that knitting was introduced by Arabian seafarers sailing and trading in the Middle East and the Mediterranean.

Knitting certainly appears to have its roots in pre-Christian times, but the spread of Christianity may have carried the germ of the practice with it. Its evidence in South America, for example, is thought to be as a result of the influence of the Spanish conquistadors. The lack of many surviving examples – fabric and fibres deteriorate relatively quickly – makes it difficult to judge the exact history of knitting.

Knitted socks

knitted socks

The earliest example we could find was these knitted socks, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London, circa 300-499, excavated from Egypt at the end of the 19th century. According to the museum, they have been knitted in stocking stitch using three-ply wool and a single needle technique, similar to Nalbindning.


Nalbindning is described as an ancient Scandanavian technique used to produce woollen clothing from lengths of yarn and a single short needle. This method created a tight weave which was suitable for felting and therefore, provided maximum protection from the cold. While this is not considered knitting, it is suggested it may be its precursor and certainly that of crochet-work.

Evidence of the earliest knitting, using two needles, is believed to come from Egypt in the eleventh century, where more knitted socks were found.

early knitting

But from there we jump to thirteenth and fourteenth century Europe, particularly France, Germany and Britain. The painting, The Visit of the Angels, circa 1390, by the German painter, Master Bertram, depicts the Madonna knitting in the round.

Knitting guilds

Fashionable knits were known in France as early as the 1420s. It is also known that knitting guilds, exclusively male and with structured apprenticeship systems, were formed in Europe in the 1400s. These knitting guilds appear to have been established to improve the quality of the profession and to attract a wealthier and more stable clientele. Ancient knitting From the Elizabethan period in Briton, knitting history is easier to determine. The development of knitting was driven by the fashion of the time, in particular fitted stockings worn by the men under short trunks. These stockings were exported to many other parts of Europe.

During the 17th century, knitted stockings continued to be very popular and could be beautifully knitted and finished with embroidery as shown in this example, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London, circa 1660 – 1670. Knitware such as this jacket below, circa 1525-1650, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London, were knitted in incredibly fine gauge out of silk and silver gilt thread and then embroidered. It is hard to imagine how many knitting stitches that would involve.

ancient knitting

Knitting and modern history

As we approach more modern times and with the industrial revolution and the two world wars, the history of knitting, particularly in Britain, is better documented.

We were even able to find evidence of square knitting for blankets and for charitable purposes too.

Sources: www.menknit.net, The Complete Encyclopedia of Stitchery by Mildred Graves Ryan, www.helium.com, http://www.jelldragon.com, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Knitting scarves breaks records and helps charity

Knitting scarves breaks records and helps charity.

Knitting scarves seems to be a favoured knitting project, both to break records and for giving to charity. The longer the better.

The record for single-handedly knitting a scarf, which measured 3,463m (11,363 ft 11 in) when completed, is held by Norwegian, Helge Johansen, according to the Guiness of Records. The project ended in 2006 and took 23 years.

Knitting while running a marathon!

Running a marathon is an amazing physical feat. But running a marathon while knitting a scarf is extraordinary. British knitter, marathon runner, and tireless charity collector, Susie Hewer, holds the Guinness World Record for the longest scarf knitted while running a marathon. She knitted the scarf (1.62m (5ft 2in)) while running the Flora London marathon on April 13 2008.

As she described on her blog, the idea came from her combined love of knitting and running marathons and a desire to raise money for the Alzheimer's Research Trust, as she had watched her dear mother taken away by dementia.

32 000 metres of knitting

The latest issue of Yarn, an Australian knitting magazine, describes the extraordinary knitting project of a community of knitters in Wangaratta, a town in north east Victoria, for the annual Stitched Up Festival. Five years ago they decided to make an attempt to beat the record, for the longest scarf in the then current Guiness Book of Records, by knitting a scarf longer than 32 kilometres.

Debbie Ellis writes in Yarn, that it was a massive knitting project which for some people "literally took over their lives and their homes". But she notes, in the end, even though they did not beat the world record, (established at 53km by the Welsh in 2005), "what was achieved was so much more, bringing together people of all ages, from every corner of Australia and even beyond our shores. Contributing to something bigger than ourselves…"

knitted scarves

Knitting a scarf that ended up being 32 – 33 kilometres long was a wonderful achievement. But more inspiring is that their plan involved giving to charity, by unpicking each of the knitted scarves and re-working them into blankets. Pictured here is a roll of the knitted scarves joined together from the Stitched Up Festival website.

If a small community can inspire this amazing team effort over five years, then it is surely possible for the world's knitters to do the same for the millions of orphans in Africa affected by HIV AIDS.


knitters of the world


These children live in dire poverty. They lack love, shelter, food, education and warmth. Many wonderful charities are working hard to provide the first four. Knitters can provide the last.

Please knit an 8 x 8" (20 x 20cm) square (or more) and send it to Africa to help make blankets for the children. Square Circle ezine will send you stories of the knitters, the children and their blankets.

If you have a plan that involves knitting scarves, perhaps we can persuade you and your community instead to knit acres of blankets for the orphans of Africa. Please let us know by filling in the form below. We would love to inspire the knitters of the world by sharing stories of your knitting projects records and ideas.

Form a knitting circle

Form a knitting circle. Knitting for charity in a community of friends is good for the soul!

Heart to hand:
The circle makes the squares. The squares make the circle.


knitting circle invitations

The same as a book club, a knitting circle can be the basis for life-long friendships. Being united in a common purpose, by knitting for charity, makes the effort even more meaningful.

How many times have you thought that you would love to get involved in a craft, or a group or do some good in the world. Sometimes we are so busy, it all seems way too hard.

This knitting project is a really simple way to start. Not expensive, little required and a fantastic outcome. Eight people in a group, each knitting 5 squares would be enough for a child's blanket.

Knitting store

And a great way to kick start a life-long hobby which, apart from knitting for charity, will see you creating many wonderful items of clothing, gifts and perhaps even a heritage blanket for yourself or your loved ones.

Wool today is exquisite, multi-textured and in every colour imaginable as you can see in the beautiful blanket my mother, Zanny knitted for me.

This wonderful display of wool is at Purl's Palace, Daylesford, Victoria, Australia, which is well worth a visit. You can view her site at www.purlspalace.com
Photo by Jack Sarafian.


Here are some suggestions for how to get a knitting circle together:

1. Download the 'Square Circle' invitation. Click here. 2. You could start with your immediate family and friends and ask them if they know anyone else who would be interested

3. Settle on one regular date, ie second Wednesday of every month. Try not to change it once you start, just to accommodate one member. Once the regularity is affected, the group tends to break apart. Just make it on a 'come if you can' basis.

4. Agree to host it on a rotational basis, or go to your local wool or craft shop and ask if they would host it for you after hours. Great benefit for them!

5. If at home, decide whether the host is going to supply food and beverages. If you have a group of 8 – 12, then you are only involved in this once every 8 – 12 months. Your efforts will be greatly rewarded by the conviviality of sharing food together, but also the enjoyment of meals shared at other member's homes. Food is definitely a topic of enthusiasm for most people and recipe sharing an added benefit!

6. Make sure for the first meeting that everyone brings at least one ball of 8 ply wool, a pair of 6mm needles and a darning needle. If they are already involved in a knitting project, ask them to bring it to show the group.

knitting group

7. Print out the knitting and sending instructions for the squares for everyone

8. Please join our mailing list for the Square Circle ezine. This way we can keep you in touch with our knitting project and the success of your blanket for our charity for children.

9. Also, please contribute your knitting circle stories, patterns, and successes, and if you make a heritage blanket, please send us photos.

Zanny's bowling friends set to knit after a day's hard bowling. Proves you can knit anytime, anywhere!

Welcome to Square Circle. We look forward to a life time's association and making many blankets together

Knitting for charity pain free

Crocheting or knitting for charity pain free is possible if you follow these basic rules for injury prevention.

I know that many of you are crocheting and knitting multiple squares day and night, and as a result AIDS orphans who were cold now sleep warmly at night. But at no stage should any of you suffer an injury as a result of your wonderful endeavours.

Here are some basic rules for injury prevention to help ensure that you remain pain free and can crochet and knit until your hearts content.

Rules for injury prevention

1. To prevent injury, start with a basic training schedule

2. Never knit or crochet when you have a current injury

3. Stop knitting or crocheting immediately there is any pain. Always work in a pain free range.

4. Stop knitting or crocheting when you feel fatigued and are recruiting other muscles to help continue your work

5. Knit and crochet in good light to avoid eye strain

6. Maintain good posture while you knit or crochet

These are general guidelines for injury prevention. If you have any concerns about being in pain or discomfit, please consult your health care practitioner. As with all injuries, after seeking and following professional advice a full recovery can generally be made and a return to knitting and crocheting possible.

1. To prevent injury, start with a basic training schedule
You are attempting to be a marathon knitter and crocheter. And as such, like any elite athlete, you need to train to be able to knit and crochet with endurance. Too many of you, especially those of you learning how to knit or crochet, or picking up your knitting needles or crochet hook again after years away from the craft, just launch straight hours of work.

Start slowly and build up. As a rule of thumb, you could start by working for 20 to 30 minutes a day, slowly on a sliding scale according to half your age. So for example:

20 for 10 days
30 for 15 days
50 for 25 days
70 for 35 days.

This will give your wrists and arms the opportunity to build strength and endurance just as a marathon runner must train over months even years to first run the distance and secondly run fast.

2. Never knit or crochet when you have a current injury
If you have an form of injury to your hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, neck of back, then DO NOT KNIT OR CROCHET. Wait until the inflammation has settled down and you are completely pain free before starting again or you have been given the go ahead by your health practitioner.

3. Stop knitting or crocheting immediately there is any pain. Always work in a pain free range.
Stop knitting or crocheting the moment you are not pain free in your hands, wrist, forearms, shoulders, neck or back. Always work in a pain free range.

4. Stop knitting or crocheting when you feel fatigued and are recruiting other muscles to help continue
Do not push past the point of fatigue. Be aware of 'trick' movements of your body, such as hitching up of the shoulders, artificially supporting your arms (resting them on an armrest for example) as this means your arms are too tired to hold themselves up on their own. If you are over recruiting your shoulder muscles to support your arms, or constantly stretching your neck or have a headache, then this is an indication of fatigue and you should stop knitting and crocheting.

5. Knit and crochet in good light to avoid eye strain
Try to knit or crochet in natural light, near a window or if at night with a good light using a day light globe to avoid eye strain. if your eyes are straining, you are more likely to recruit neck and shoulder muscles to hold you closer to your work and this may result in an injury.

6. Maintain good posture while you knit or crochet
Good postural guidelines:
– sit in a comfortable chair that supports your back well with your feet on the floor
– your back should be supported so that it can maintain a normal neutral spinal position (all the normal curves of the spine in place). Twisting and slouching for long periods may case strain and injury.
– your work should be held in the midline position, with your shoulders and neck feeling relaxed.

Basic stretches
It is generally recommended that you do stretches if you are training your muscles. As with any activity where you have not used muscles in this way before consistently, they should have length, strength and endurance and be able to relax completely to ensure injury prevention.

R.I.C.E. injury prevention
If you are unable to see your health practitioner immediately, then the recommended Level 2 First Aid rule in Australia is R.I.C.E Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.

REST: stop knitting and crocheting. Continuing to do so may worsen the injury or cause additional problems

ICE: This speeds up healing by contracting the blood vessels and reducing the inflammation. It can be done using a pack of frozen peas or crushed ice blocks in a tea towel. Keep a layer of cloth between the ice and your skin. Apply twice a day (or more if advised by a health practitioner) for no more than 10 to 15 minutes.

COMPRESSION: Also assists to speed up healing by reducing any swelling. Use an elastic bandage and wrap the injured area firmly but not so tightly that it affects your blood flow. if it is too tight it will cause further swelling.

ELEVATION: Generally means having the injured part above the level of your heart. So if it is your hand, wrist or forearm, then wear a sling so that it is raised or use pillows to rest it on. This should help decrease pain.

Consult your health practitioner if pain persists and remember to prevent injury and get fit for knitting and crocheting, do not return to your work until you are entirely pain free.

I hope these basic guidelines to injury prevention help you avoid any injuries and allow you to crochet and knit pain free for years to come.

And especially to keep the AIDS orphans of Southern Africa warm.

Please subscribe to the Square Circle ezine for stories of your 'pain free' squares arriving in South Africa, the children and their blankets.