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Suzanne F. Boswell

Suzanne F. Boswell

Sep 22, 2022
14 tweets

Something that blows my mind is how RECENTLY knitting was invented. Knitting is probably 1000 years old. Weaving, by contrast, dates back to the neolithic era. đŸ§”

blue and white patterned sock, from Egypt. Fashioned between 1000-1300 AD. Worn at the hell and toe, but shows extreme craftmanship.
Although knitting is often associated with Northern Europe (Ireland, Latvia, the Scandanavian countries), knitting does not originate in Europe. Instead, the first handknit fragments appear in Northern Africa - in Egypt. [Textile museum collection, "Sock," 1000-1200 AD]
Blue and white patterned socks, with geometric patterning, from Egypt. The heels and soles are worn away.
We know these Egyptian socks not the “earliest” knitting, because they’re so complex. They involve multiple colors, and turning a heel (the use of short rows). Knitting had probably been around for a few hundred years. [Textile museum collection, "Sock," 1000-1200 AD]
A blue and white sock from Egypt, 1000-1200 AD.
Knitting likely came to Europe through Muslim artisans working in Spain. Case in point: the first European knit pieces were found in the tomb of Prince Fernando de la Cerdo (Spain, 1275) - silk pillowcases that include the Arabic word for "blessings" in stylized Kufic script.
Pillowcase, silk, with geometric designs (the pillow is gold, but the photo is in Black and white)
In the 13th and 14th century, we start to see "Knitting Madonnas" in paintings from Spain, Germany, and Italy - an indication that knitting was becoming more widespread throughout Europe. [Buxtehude Madonna, Bertram of Minden, late 1300s]
Painting of Angels, Jesus, and Madonna. The Virgin Mary is knitting some kind of top.
And then the 14th-16th century see an explosion of knitted objects (most of which were made with incredibly small thread). Liturgical gloves, purses, caps, trousers...
French pouch from the Cathedral of Sens, 13th century,  Includes black, white, dark and light brown, blue, red silk and gold thread.
Spanish literugical gloves with red and gold thread, 16th century.
My favorite "Renaissance" knitted object are the Duke August of Saxony's silk trunkhose (1555) - with a knit codpiece, obviously.
Knit trousers, or trunks. Dark yellow, includes a prominent codpiece.
Knitted objects in the Renaissance were mostly created by (all-male) knitting guilds, which were prominent throughout Western and Central Europe. Here is a knitted masterwork - a carpet - created by an unknown knitter from Strasbourg, France (1781)
Knitted carpet depicting Jacob's dream and Adam and Eve (among others). Square carpet, blue, red, gold, and some green.
Some forms of knitting are even more recent - I discovered recently that *cables* (from cabled sweaters) were invented around the turn of the 20th century, in the Aran Islands in Ireland.
two cable-knit braids, both in white.
It's so fascinating to me that cables, which tend to denote old-fashioned knitting, or traditional knitting, are so young. ~100 years old. WILD. (Seen here, iconically, on Chris Evans in Knives Out)
Chris Evans in Knives Out wearing a cable-knit sweater.
Anyway, this is some of the textile history I think about when I'm knitting extremely fancy dishcloths. (I am basic in my knitting).
Three knitted dishcloths, one still on the needles, in a knitting box.
A lot of people are replying to this thread with "well, actually, there are knit socks that are 8000 years old." But these objects are not knit! They're made by NĂ„lebinding - a single-needle fiber craft that creates structurally different fabric. [Pair of socks, V&A museum]
Archeologists sometimes mistook NĂ„lebound objects for knitting, because they can look superficially alike. But the two methods are very different (knots vs. loops, one needle vs. two). It's like comparing weaving to knitting. Very different fiber craft!
An example of nalebinding, green, with one needle.
An example of knitting (red), with two needles.
Textile historians sometimes had to follow the path of a single thread to figure out whether a particular object was knit or NĂ„lebinding, because they can look so visually similar. See also:



Fun fact: what predates modern knitting is nÄlbinding, a sort of single needle knitting. We have evidence for it at least 8k years back, and it's probably older. It's weird and fun!
Suzanne F. Boswell
Gleefully overthinking everything. Researcher, quasi-academic, nerd, gym fan. I always flip to the end of the book. She/ Her
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