Saturday, January 14, 2006

Here's a priceless definition of living knitting

My almost 6 yo String Bean and I were driving to pick up Kotch.

From the back seat: "Mom, do you know how to make a boy like you?"

Mom, driving on a busy interstate: "Well, um, honey -- what do you mean?"

From the back seat: "You just knit something every year for Christmas for him. Pretty soon you'll be married."

Mom, grinning from ear-to-ear: "Oh. Well,now, do you stop knitting for him once you're married?"

From the back seat: "Oh, no! Once you're married, you can knit for him whenever you want. For his birthday, or whatever."

Well, there you go!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

History of Knitting

(excerpted from with additonal notes added)

Early origins of knitting

An exact genographical origin for knitting cannot be specified. The craft is believed to have been developed B.C., but this is disputed today. The oldest remnants of seemingly knitted pieces are those that were worn as socks. It is believed that socks and stockings were the first pieces to be produced by techniques similar to knitting as they had to be shaped in order to fit the foot, whereas woven cloth could be used for most other items of clothing. Today it is known that these early socks were worked in NÃ¥lebinding, an ancient craft which involves creating fabric from thread by making multiple knots or loops. It is done with a needle (originally of wood or bone).

The first references to true knitting in Europe were in the early 14th century, though the first knitted socks from Egypt might be slightly older. At these early times, the purl stitch was unknown; in order to produce plain knitting it was necessary to knit in the round and then cut it open. The first reference to purl stitch dates from the mid-16th century, but the knowledge may have slightly preceded that.

Knitting Madonnas

During the 14th century, pictures of the Madonna and Child Jesus showed the Blessed mother knitting – usually knitting in the round with four or five needles. Legend explains that Mary knitted the “seamless garment” for Jesus that could not be torn by the soldiers during the Passion of Our Lord – basically, Mary made a seamless t-shirt for Jesus.

Knitting Madonnas can be seen in churches and museums throughout Western Europe and date from the early 1300s through to the end of the 1400s.

Importance of Church in Knitting

The Catholic Church, primarily in Spain, helped to spread the interest in knitting through the industry of ecclesiastical garments. Knitted liturgical gloves and altar garments are some of the surviving examples of this ancient knitting. Caps – including clerical caps – that fitted to the wearer’s head were also made extensively in the past.

Elizabethan period

During this era the manufacture of stockings was of vast importance to many Britons, who knitted with fine wool and exported their wares. Knitting schools were established as a way of providing an income to the poor, and the stockings that were made sent to Holland, Spain, and Germany.
The fashion of the period for men to wear short trunks made the fitted stockings commonly used, a fashion necessity.

Queen Elizabeth the First herself favoured silk stockings, these were finer, softer and much more expensive. Actual examples of stockings that belonged to her still remain, showing the high quality and decorative nature of the items specifically knitted for her.

Guild Knittings – MEN ONLY!

In the 16th and 17th centuries, when guilds were at their height, men served an apprencticeship for six years in order to be considered “master knitters”. According to knititng historian Mary Thomas, “three years to learn, three years to travel, after which the apprentice made his Masterpieces in thriteen weeks:
1. knit a carpet … the design to contain flowers, foliage, birds and animals in natural colors (approx. size 6 ft. x 5 ft).
2. knit a beret
3. knit a woolen shirt
4. knit a pair of hose with Spanish clocks

Importance in Scottish history

Knitting was such a vast occupation among those living on the Scottish Isles during the 17th and 18th centuries that the whole family would be involved in making sweaters, socks, stockings, etc. Fair Isle techniques were used to create elaborate colorful patterns. The sweaters were essential to the fishermen of these Isles, as the natural oils within the wool would provide some element of protection against the harsh weathers while out fishing.

Many elaborate designs were developed, such as cable stitch used on aran sweaters in Ireland.

Industrial revolution

Rudimentary knitting devices had been invented prior to this period, but were one-off creations. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution wool spinning, and cloth manufacture began to be done in factories. More women would be employed at operating machinery, rather than producing their home spun and knitted items.
The consistency of the factory spun wool was better in that it was more uniform, and the weight could be gauged better as a consequence.

Knitting for Victory: 1939-1945 (and don't forget the Civil War, WWl, Desert Storm, and the War in Iraq)

Make do and mend was the title of a booklet produced by the British wartime government department, the Ministry of Information.
Wool was in very short supply, as were so many things. The booklet encouraged women to unpick any old, unwearable, woollen items in order to re-use the wool.
Knitting patterns were issued for people to make items for the Army and Navy to wear in winter, such as balaclavas and gloves. This had the effect of producing the required items, but also gave a positive sense of achievement towards the war effort, by being able to contribute in this way.

1950s and 60s high fashion

After the war years, knitting has a huge boost as greater colours and styles of yarn were introduced. Many thousands of patterns fed a hungry market for fashionable designs in bright colours.
The "twinset" was an extremely popular combination for the home knitter. It consisted of a short-sleeved top with a cardigan in the same colour, to be worn together.
Girls were taught to knit in schools, as it was thought to be a useful skill, not just a hobby. Magazines such as "Pins and needles" in the UK, carried patterns of varying difficulty, with not just clothes, but items such as blankets, toys, bags, lace curtains and items that could be sold for profit.

1980s decline

The popularity of knitting showed a sharp decline in this period in the Western world. Sales of patterns and yarns slumped, as the craft was increasingly seen as old-fashioned and children were rarely taught to knit in school.
The increased availability and low cost of machine knitted items meant that consumers could have a beautiful looking sweater at the same cost of purchasing the wool and pattern themselves.

Revival in the New Millenium

Following this decline of knitting, manufacturers and designers looked for new ways to stimulate interest and creativity within the craft.

Focus was given to making specialty yarns, which could produce beautiful and stunning results.
Companies like Vogue worked to make their patterns the height of fashion, and Rowan Yarns popularised their patterns with high-quality magazines that bore no resemblance to the old-fashioned style once produced in bulk.

Celebrities including Julia Roberts, Winona Ryder and Cameron Diaz have been seen knitting and have helped to popularise the revival of the craft. A new phrase Guerilla Knitting has been coined for the practice of taking every opportunity to knit in public - often with a degree of organisation such as a mass tube knit-in.

Even men are knitting again as seen by the emergence of male knitting groups.

Macdonald, Anne L., No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting, 1988
Rutt, Richard, A History of Hand Knitting, 1987 (reprinted 2000)
Thomas, Mary, Mary Thomas’s Knitting Book, 1938 (reprinted by Dover Publications, 1972)

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

CM's handcrafts and how to teach them

How did CM recommend teaching handcrafts?

...two more important subjects -- the Handicrafts and Drills -- which should form a regular part of a child's daily life. (Home Education, pg 315)

The handicrafts best fitted for children under nine seem to me to be chair-caning, carton-work, basket-work, Smyrna rugs, Japanese curtains, carving in cork, samplers on coarse canvas showing a variety of stitches, easy needlework, knitting (big needles and wool), etc. (Home Education, pg 315)

The points to be borne in children's handicrafts are:(a) that they should not be employed in making futilities such a pea and stick work, paper mats, and the like; (b) that they should be taught slowly and carefully what they are to do; (c) that slipshod work should not be allowed; (d) and that, therefore, the children's work should be kept well within their compass. (Home Education, pg 315-316)

... a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we train him upon physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books... (Toward a Philosophy of Education, pg 154)

Again we know that the human hand hand is a wonderful and exquisite instrument to be used in a hundred movements exacting delicacy, direction and force; every such movement is a cause of joy as it leads to the pleasure of execution and the triumph of success. We begin to understand this and make some efforts to train the young in the deft handling of tools and the practice of handicrafts. Some day perhaps, we shall see apprenticeship to trades revived and good and beautiful work enforced. In so far, we are laying ourselves out to secure that each shall "live his life"; and that, not at his neighbor's expense; because, so wonderful is the economy of the world that when a man really lives his life he benefits his neighbor as wll as himself; we all thrive in the well being of each. (Philosophy of Education, p. 328)

So, learning a handicraft is learning a life skill. But Miss Mason didn't think knitting or any other handicraft should be taught just for itself -- it should be taught to help the student "live his life" to the full and "not at his neighbor's expense".

Ideas for Living Knitting

  1. Snowflake Bentley, by Jacqueline Briggs Martin -- snowflake mittens, snowflake ornaments
  2. The Mitten, by Jan Brett -- white mittens
  3. Little House on the Prairie -- Laura's shawl; rag doll
  4. Mr. Popper's Penguins -- penguin (with baby)
  5. Ox Cart Man -- 5 pairs of mittens