What is Knitting?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2019
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Knitting is a fiber art in which loops of yarn are interlocked with the assistance of specially designed needles. Europeans have been knitting since around the 15th century, when both Italy and Spain started the practice, and it quickly spread. Modern knitting can be accomplished by hand with the use of traditional needles, or on knitting machines which have mechanized the process. Chances are that you are probably wearing a knit garment right now, thanks to the ubiquity of this popular method for making textiles.

One of the most convenient things about knitting is that it does not require extensive tools. The only simpler textile art is probably crochet, in which loops of yarn are knotted with a crochet hook. The simplicity of knitting makes it a very easy skill to teach, and an affordable art to practice. In order to knit a basic garment, all that is needed is a pair of knitting needles and a selection of yarn.


Knitting needles come in a range of styles. Traditional needles were once made from bone; various woods and metals are most common now. Straight knitting needles have one pointed end and one flat end, which often includes a bulb or ornamental device to keep the knitting from sliding off as it is worked. Double ended knitting needles, used for projects like turning sock heels and making hats, have, as one might imagine, two sharp ends, allowing the knitting to be worked from either side. Circular knitting needles are attached to each other; some knitters find this style more convenient for some projects.

Yarn also comes in a dizzying assortment of fashions, from plain worsted weight wool to novelty yarns. Besides acrylic, yarn can be made from a huge variety of animal and plant fibers such as wool, silk, cotton, bamboo, soy, or corn, and it may be smooth, fuzzy, dyed, or plain. Very fine yarns can be used for projects like socks and delicate shawls, while thick, chunky yarns can be used to make creative hats, gloves, and scarves.

Knitting is accomplished by looping the yarn together in a series of stitches. Two basic stitches, the knit and the purl, make up the basis of all knitting. By manipulating these stitches, people can create ribbing, cabling, open lace, and a variety of other looks. Knitting can be done “in the round” on circular or double pointed needles to create seamless garments, or in the flat, in which case individual sections of a pattern are finished off and then stitched together.

Many people find knitting relaxing and enjoyable. If you are interested in learning how to knit, you can probably find a friendly knitter's circle in your area which will teach you the basics and mentor you as you work on projects. Be warned that knitting can be highly addictive, especially if you have access to a good yarn store; but it can be put to good use. Hand-knitted gifts are often greatly appreciated, and you can also donate knitted goods to charitable organizations who will distribute them to people in need.


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Years ago in some parts of Europe, knitting was a necessary part of life. Usually heavy woolen socks and undergarments were knitted for cold winter days. Not only were the garments knitted, but the yarn had to be prepared from the sheep's wool. The wool would be first washed, dried, then fluffed up. All of this was done by hand. After that, a bundle of wool would be placed on one side of a stick about a yard or so long, and about one inch in diameter. The bottom of the stick was held under one arm and the part with wool was sticking away from you. You would start making the yarn by pulling on the wool a little

at a time and twisting it with your fingers. There was another piece of elliptical shaped smooth wood, where the thread would be attached too, and was hanging toward the ground. As the yarn was growing you would wind it up on the elliptical shaped wood, and continued the process until the bundle was done.

When you had sufficient yarn for your project, it was time to start knitting. It used to be somewhat of a social event too, since women could prepare the yarn, or knit in the company of other women and chat at the same time. Usually this was an evening activity, when all the other daily chores were done.

I have been noticing that knitting is gaining in popularity again. In the past this activity was relegated more to mothers and grandmothers, today many young people are taking it up as their hobby.

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