“You’ve got to pick out every stitch…” sang Donovan in 1966.
While what he meant may have had nothing to do with knitting, his words may also have been a reference to times in knitting history or to the practices of knitters having to undo some long hours on a knitting project.
Whatever the case, for knitting fanatics, it’s interesting to consider the background and the details that make up knitting history and are part of our knitting lives.
Brief History of Knitting
It makes sense that beginner knitters will start with scarves and socks for their first projects: apparently, while we don’t know where or exactly when knitting began, we have learned that the first knit items were socks. And actually, the technique was not exactly called knitting but was what we now know as nalebinding—a process involving the weaving and looping of thread(s) to make a piece of fabric…, which was then made into an item of clothing.
Egyptians are credited with some of the earliest known knitting, followed quite a bit later by the Elizabethans. Yes, think Shakespeare, if he was among those who could afford the fine woollen and silk items the culture proudly manufactured and exported. As well, in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Scotland, the pride of whole families working on the making of knitted garments and accessories continued the practice.
During the advent and upsurge of the Industrial Revolution, small groups and individuals took a backroom seat to machine-made pieces; but by the onset of WWII, when wool was scarce, great efforts were made by citizens (especially the women at home) to take apart old woollen pieces and create new military issue supplies such as gloves.
From limited supply and variety during the war to creative surges and abundance, during the fifties and sixties, designers were introducing colours in great array, new textures, and libraries of patterns. The impact on and by the fashion trends made knitting a must-do and knit products must-haves.
Knitting took a hit as a hobby for old ladies in the eighties; but by the new millennium, along with such grossly popular hobbies as scrapbooking, became an activity re-considered, renewed, and respected. Novelty yarns, the facility of the Internet, and the practice of knitting by current celebrities contributed to what is still, today, a popular pastime with a lucrative market.
Knitting Machines Introduce First Saboteurs
Industrial workers, in their sabots, their wooden clogs, began to protest when the knitting machines they ran began to be replaced by more efficient, less man-necessary ones. As they resisted and feared the machine take-over, and as they protested, they came to be known as the first “saboteurs,” so named after their clogs.
The Gansey is Sweaty
A sweater was originally called a “gansey” or a “jersey”. Evidently, “sweater” was introduced once sports participants began wearing the garments and, yes, “sweat” in them.
The Geeks Get Knit, TooTop ten “geekiest” knit items include a memory stick cosy; a Nintendo DS case; a Mobius Strip; and a stuffed Dalek.
The First Knitting Olympics
Yarn Harlot, a.k.a. knitting blogger Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, called a challenge out to knitters the world over. At the opening of the 2006 Winter Olympics, a knitter was to cast on a project and commit to finishing it by the sixteenth and final day of the Olympics. The participants who signed up to do so? Almost 4,000 “knathletes” or “knitletes”.
A Few Knitting Tips and Tricks
- For knitting extra-durable sweaters: cast on with double strands of yarn for sturdier edges/selvages.
- For getting rid of the loose stitch: one knitter investigated for months and discovered that to fix the problem, move stitches closer to the needles’ tips.
- For killing pilling (on finished pieces): a knitter named Soucy says to add two to three drops of glycerin in the washing machine or only one drop in a hand wash.
Getting Started: Knitting Supplies
Choosing Knitting Needles – Knitting needles come in several sizes, types, and materials.
The size (the diameter) will determine what is called the gauge—the number of stitches and rows per inch in a knitted piece.
The type of needle will determine the type of garment or piece: single point needles and flex needles are most typically used for flat pieces; circular and double-point needles are most often used for circular knitting—the latter for smaller pieces such as kids’ wear or socks.
The material will determine ease and comfort for the knitter. For example, bamboo needles are lighter than aluminum needles, are warmer to the touch, and are not as slippery; metal needles are heavier and make a lovely clicking sound when use in knitting; and plastic needles are flexible and just as durable as metal ones.
Later, it will depend on your knitting style and preferences. But for now, start with a set of knitting needles that won’t let the stitches slip so easily: a set of wood needles are often recommended for this very reason or for knitters using slippery yarns.
Choosing Knitting Wool/Yarn—Yarn, as you know, comes in many, many weights, textures, and colours. And believe it or not, the colours do factor into how you knit. But more importantly for now is what weight and quality yarn you choose.
For your first knitting project, start with a basic pattern (see note below), then follow the recommendations for yarn specifics: what you will want to know is a) how much yarn you need; b) what weight; and c) what type: a basic pattern for winter socks, for instance, will call for x number of skeins, as well as worsted or sport-weight yarn.
Choosing a Basic Pattern – You can find patterns online, at your library, or at a bookstore…, until you are ready to create your own hand-knit fashions, that is. Then, once you know what the pattern you chose calls for, you can eyeball the colours and feel the each of the textures for the softness…. Just beware of the cheapest yarns, for they may be challenging (stretchy, slippery) to work with or scratchy to wear as a finished product.
Choosing a Cutting/Breaking Tool – scissors seem logical, but if you have strong hands or teeth, they’ll do fine, too.
Now that you have the background, the details, the tricks and tips in mind, it’s time to get started! For more specific help with knitting steps, do look into our articles for beginners, for advanced techniques, and for avoiding or fixing common knitting mistakes.