Cultural Traditions

One of the oldest examples of yarn arts is the technique of "nalbinding"-- similar to crochet in that you make a knot in each stitch. Below you can see an example of nalbinding from from 300 CE in ancient Egypt. In sub-Saharan Africa, a similar technique was used by knotting fibers of the raffia palm tree. So ancient and widespread is the technique that there are over a thousand known stitches, allowing a person to create everything from stiff to stretchy materials. In many places, nalbinding was replaced by mechanical looms to save time. But time-consuming activities are worth it if they can make patterns so intricate that it brings prestige. An intricately knotted hat worn by a member of the royal court in Central Africa, like the one below, shows that you are worthy of the weaver's best work.

Nalbinding in socks from about 300 CE in Egypt.

Hat from the Yombe royal court in Zaire, made from knotted raffia circa 1850.

Yasmina Panihuara of Chinchero knits a chullo (hat with ear flaps) in Peru.

A traditional burden basket from the Pima Nation in Arizona.

This painting of Mary knitting while Jesus looks on was created by Bertram of Miden around 1405. He was just projecting the knitting of his day into the past, but there was weaving and nalbinding in ancient Judea. One of the oldest examples of nalbinding in the world was found in the cave of Nahal Hemar, located near Jericho in Israel. It dates to about 6500 BCE.

True knitting was probably invented in the Middle East, and then spread to Europe. The earliest knitted items in Europe were made by Muslim knitters employed by Spanish Christian royal families in the 12th century. This cushion from the tomb of Fernanto de la Cerda (1275 CE) is knit with the word "baraka" ("blessing") in Kufic Arabic script.

During World Wars I and II, those at home were encouraged to knit for the soldiers fighting. Patterns for socks, hats, and gloves were published specifically to be made for the Army and Navy. Wool was in short supply, and the British government encouraged women to rip out unwearable woolen items in order to reuse the yarn.