Every time I start a new knitting project, I marvel how anyone came up with this plan for turning string into fabric. As the tips of my needles loop through the strand of yarn, I wonder about the first person who realized that this series of knots could be made by needles and would hold together.
The wikipedia page on the history of knitting is enlightening. Apparently the art of knitting is a descendant of an earlier system of knots called nalebinding (there should be a little circle accent over that a) that dates back to the 3rd century. It was used primarily to make socks and stockings, as knitting ultimately was upon its inception.
Fragments of some of the earliest knitted socks and stockings have been found in Egypt, believed to be from sometime between the 11th and 14th centuries. By the 13th century, there are examples of silk stockings and cushion covers being knitted in Europe, and the skill slowly became more and more prominent for daily goods.
Reading about it made my thoughts shift from those who did the knitting to those who did the digging. Can you imagine, after decades of finding only small scraps of knitted materials, uncovering an entire child's wool cap dating back to the 14th century? Can you imagine the feeling of being threaded back through thousands of years to an earlier people?
As a kid, I fantasized about brushing the dust off a little chip of pottery and turning to my colleagues, a look of sophisticated pleasure on face as I informed them that I'd found the last remaining piece of the oldest pot in the history of the world. I dug around in the backyard hoping to uncover something more than rollie pollies and rocks. Was there any kid who, upon learning what an archaeologist was, didn't want to be one? At least for a little while?
It didn't stick, likely because of my lack of early interest in archaeology's key partner - history. The dates and timelines just swirled around, unlinked in my brain to each other or anything else. Yet the things of history maintained their allure. They always have, and as an adult, I've bemoaned my younger self's inability (or unwillingness?) to learn history.
I think if I'd been set down in front of a series of pots or fragments of knitted garments or carved jewelry and used those as a timeline, I might have better understood. If I'd held a pot in my hands while we talked about which people had made it, what was happening in Asia or Europe or the Americas when that pot was made, and then on to the next pot and the next, I might now be able to explain some of how our world came to be what it is. Those pots - a tangible symbol of the passage of time - might have served, for the rest of my life, as my frame of reference.
As it stands, my knowledge of history is woefully lacking. But when I knit, I feel as though I'm connecting to the past, to the person (woman? man?) in Lubeck, Germany who knit a little hat for a child sometime around when Chaucer was taking his first breath in England or the Ottoman Empire was beginning to take hold. I'm a participant in The History of Knitting, choosing to throw in my lot with all those whose hands worked the needles before mine.