Your view of knitting will be shaped both by your own experience of it – as a knitter, a wearer of knitted items or friend or relative of someone who knits – and through visual representations of knitting as an activity.
• To start with, produce a quick mind map of what knitting means to you and
what you associate with it.
• Do some visual research by finding contemporary and historical examples of
where and how knitting or knitted items have been represented, for example
pattern books, humorous cards based on 1950s patterns for knitted tank
tops, balaclavas, etc., images of knitted items for sale, or the use of Christmas
jumpers! For contemporary knitting, you might want to look at the practice of
Yarn Bombing which is a form of knitted street art practised by a group of artists called Knitta: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knitta_Please
The V&A museeum have a page dedicated to the history of knitting, and it contains photos of some of the knitted objects in their collection.
The oldest piece they have are a pair of Egyptian socks dated from the 3rd-5th century AD, but the first item knitted on two needles is from Africa and dated between the 12th and 14th centuries.
Around the 14th century, paintings of the Virgin Mary knitting began appearing, suggesting that knitting was becoming commonplace and more popular.
Knitting guilds began appearing in the 14th century, but mechanical knitting machines began appearing in the late 16th century and hand knitting as a industry began to die out and it became something done by wealthy ladies as a hobby.
In the late 19th century, publications such as Weldon’s Practical Needlework started being produced, which contained patterns for knitting, crochet and other needlecrafts.
During the wars, people were encouraged to knit items for servicemen overseas, and early 20th century hand-knitting was generally functional rather than fashionable – items were made to be warm and practical.
Having said that, many fashionable knitted items were being produced in the 1920s such as swimwear, underwear, and sportswear.
Here are some knitting patterns from different decades:
When it comes to novelty jumpers, Christmas ones are the enduring classic. With origins going back to Nordic knits worn by skiers, the Xmas jumper has gained in popularity over the years and turned from cheesy and ‘ugly’, to extremely popular. Save the Children even hold a Christmas Jumper Day each year to raise money.
Knitting is as popular as ever, with people of all ages taking it up as a relaxing hobby, and knitting groups springing up all over. As mentioned in the coursebook, it has even found it’s way into the artworld, with people like Olek creating art out of yarn, like the piece below:
There are plenty of other ‘yarn bombing’ examples out there and it was even featured in an advert for 7up!
Really, though, contemporary hand-knitting pieces no longer need to look like they were made by your grandma 30 years ago, but they can be sophisticated, fashionable, and made with some very beautiful and interesting yarns
• How do the examples you’ve found support or contradict the associations you’ve identified in your mind map? Is there a general stereotype of knitting and how have contemporary images of knitting played with this stereotype?
I found it interesting that knitting has such a long history, and seeing the Virgin Mary knitting in those paintings is fascinating, as is finding out about how much people knitted for servicemen during the war.
It was also news to me that knitting was at one time seen as something that only the wealthy had time to do, as well as the fact that to become a member of the knitting guild, it took 6 years to train.
Overall, I think my findings match with what I already believed about knitting. My grandma knit her whole life, and so I grew up with it. She even taught my dad and his brothers to knit their own clothes in the 60s and 70s, as it was a cheap way to make warm clothes for them all. She taught me to knit as a young child, although my main memories of her knitting at that time are very thick, woolly jumpers, hats and scarves. When my children were born, I started knitting a bit for them and discovered a whole other world of knitting patterns, which were far more interesting than just boring, oversize sweaters.
Even though knitting is now a hobby enjoyed by many age groups, I think there is still a stereotype of the typical knitter – old grannies knitting hideous, endlessly long scarves and bobble hats! The fact that knitting as art and ‘yarn bombing’ has become a thing does contradict that view somewhat, but I don’t think that’s something in mainstream consciousness. I imagine the first thing most people think of when knitting comes to mind is still the stereotype just mentioned. Indeed, there are knit and natter groups running at many of the libraries I work in, and the participants are almost exclusively white women over 60.