Knitting started as men's work November 30, 2013 • Robin Stroot
How often do you see a man who knits? I can honestly say that the only man I’ve ever seen knitting is in a photograph of former NFL player Rosie Grier. In the 1960s, Grier was also known for his love of needlepoint. He was famous because men just didn’t make needlepoint or knit (at least in the 1960s).
Prior to the 1600s, knitting was mainly considered to be men’s work. It’s not known exactly when or where the craft of knitting began. Some speculation is that knitting started in the Far East. This idea is based on textiles discovered by Alexander of Greece on one of his journeys to Egypt. It is said he learned about the art of wool gathering from the Egyptians. The knowledge was passed on to the Romans and then to other European cultures.
Knitted lace was very popular in France. Knitted stockings were so valuable that they were often given to royalty. The men were also known for knitted Strasbourg carpets. The knitter often incorporated the coat of arms of the family that ordered the carpet. The knitter’s name was often included along one edge in the rug.
In order to be certified as a master knitter in Holland, a man apprenticed himself for six years, learning the trade of knitting. The final step in becoming a master knitter included making four items in a 13-week period. The items included carpet (made from the student’s original design), stockings, woolen shirt and a beret.
Similar master hand knitting programs were developed in England and included the student traveling to other countries to study new techniques. He returned to England for the final qualifying knitting exam.
Somewhere around the middle of the 16th century, stockings were also an important product in England. See, stockings were originally made of cloth and sewn together. Knitting stockings was a very profitable business until around the end of the 16th century and the invention of the knitting machine.
The first Aran sweaters of Ireland were knitted by men. Each sweater incorporated a personalized design by the knitter. The women in the family spun the wool. The Aran sweater was like the Scottish tartan in that each family could be recognized by the specific design of the garment.
Fair Isle knitting originated in Spain and spread to other countries such as Scotland and Scandinavia. The Scandinavian variety is the most well-known style of Fair Isle knitting and is used even today for mittens, hats and sweaters.
The Industrial Revolution was the change that saw a decline in men making the hand-knitted garments. It’s the early contributions made by men from several countries that enhanced the knitting for all crafters to enjoy today.