The History Center on Main Street, 83 N. Main Street, Mansfield PA 16933
Tri-Counties Genealogy & History by Joyce M. Tice
A Very Brief History of Knitting
Bradford County PA
Chemung County NY
Tioga County PA
Home Guide Disclaimer Copyright Articles  Joyce New
Looking Back
For Mountain Home Magazine
January 2008
Joyce M. Tice

On these cold wintry evenings, warm knit sweaters and afghans are among our greatest comforts. Knitting is not the most ancient of textile crafts, but its history goes back to at least 500 A. D. Knitting is a technique of winding yarn around rods called needles to create a fabric of interlocking loops.

Photo Caption: Amos, a one of a kind dog, endures a fitting for his one of a kind sweater.


Joyce's Search Tip - November 2008
Do You Know that you can search just the articles on the site by using the Articles button in the Partitioned search engine at the bottom of the Current What's New Page
Historians of knitting disagree about the most ancient origins of the craft, but most of the controversy is in identifying what is really knitting and what is something else. A much earlier craft called nalbinding produced fabric that looked very much like the knitted stockinette stich. [See more on nalbinding] In any case, by the Middle Ages cottage industries produced knit garments in large quantity. Silk stockings and gloves were among their most appreciated products, and woolen caps, probably not much different than some we knit today, were also popular. Trade guilds developed to manage the production and marketing of knit garments.

During the Industrial Revolution, the invention of knitting machines made mass production of knit garments possible. Almost certainly you are wearing some knit garment right now. Your socks, your undershirt, are almost exclusively knit garments. In fact socks made for Roman soldiers by the nailbinding technique look very much like ours. The turning of the heel was the same technique.

The sweater, as we know it, was not developed until the 1700s. The British call them jumpers, but it is the same thing. The garment is ever popular and a staple of today’s wardrobes. Different techniques, such as the beautifully cabled Irish Fisherman patterns, developed throughout the world.  The wool yarn was left with the sheep lanolin still in it and knit tightly for waterproofing. Irish women knit unique and intricate patterns into the sweaters of their husbands and sons so that they would be recognizable in case of a drowning accident that left them to wash up on shore in damaged condition. Not a pretty story, to be sure, but the garments and patterns are exquisite.

I taught myself to knit from a book at the age of ten. I wound that Red Heart yarn so tightly around those little size 2 needles, which I still have but never use, that it could not be moved. My mother called in a neighbor to diagnose the problem. She told me to wrap more loosely and recommended a razor blade to cut what I had done so far off the needles.

Charles Dickens, my all time favorite author, was obviously not a knitter. In A Tale of Two Cities, he seats Madam DeFarge at the foot of the guillotine knitting codes about who was executed into her fabric. Now, unless Madame DeFarge had some kind of binary code, such as our computers use, I can’t see how she did that. There’s knit and there’s purl and that’s all there is although the combinations are endless.
At left is the book I learned from. It is my museum now and almost every woman who comes in says she has it, too. It must have been on the market for decades and sold by the millions. 
Visit Joyce's Knit Shop - Elk Run Purls

In our earlier rural communities knitting was a family activity. Adults and children spent winter evenings knitting their own socks, hats, mittens and other garments. It was not exclusively a craft for women. My Grandfather Tice was a knitter. I never saw him knit, but I have letters from his three month hospitalization at Blossburg in 1921, the result of a farm accident. He had his knitting with him and apparently that amused some of the other men on his ward. I don’t think that bothered him much. He just kept on knitting.

Knitting is as popular today as ever. Many new yarns are available, and the merging of techniques from all over the world has given us an endless variety of ideas to develop.  Knitting can turn otherwise wasted time watching TV or waiting for something into productive time. Whatever you make will be one of a kind.

For Further Reading:
No Idle Hands, the Social History of American Knitting, Anne L. Macdonald, Ballantine Books, 1990
A History of Hand Knitting, Richard Rutt, Interweave Press, 1987
Stockings I [Joyce} recently knit for neighbors Hi Joyce,
    My father, Robert Newell, was an accomplished knitter. He made these gloves about 1975 for my mother, Ida CARR Newell, who had very arthritic hands. My Dad also knitted mittens, hats, scarves, sweaters, and slippers for our entire family.
Pat NEWELL Smith, Pennsylvania
Space for your recent knitting project. Or your favorite knitting project or even an heirloom item can be included. Send photos and caption to with your name and state you live in.
Sophia's sweater by Joyce - Seamless on circular  needle
Bradford County PA
Chemung County NY
Tioga County PA

Published On Tri-Counties Site On 30 DEC 2007 
By Joyce M. Tice
Email: Joyce M. Tice


The History Center on Main Street, 83 N. Main Street, Mansfield PA 16933