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Knitting is something we are all familiar with, but surprisingly little is known about when and where the art of hand knitting began. This is because yarn fibers are biodegradable. We know that the oldest form of knitting (crossed knitting) has been practiced since the birth of Christ. A pair of knitted socks discovered in Egyptian tombs from the 3rd to 6th centuries BC is the earliest archaeological evidence of knitted garments. The earliest knitting needle is a brass rod from the early Iron Age. The wool spinning started around 4000 BC near the Mediterranean. The first wool factory in England was built in 50 AD by the Romans. However, the usual knitting was only recently practiced.
The oldest form of knitting is cross knitting, also known as single-needle knitting and pseudo-knitting. When cross-knitting, the stitches are turned half a turn rather than vertically aligned. This knitting method was developed by the Nazca culture in Peru (100 BC - 700 BC) in the edges of their woven fabrics. Frequent color changes in these margins were used to create complicated human and animal figures.
The origins of knitting are hard to trace, but there are several theories. Some people believe that knitting began in Persia, others that it began in Israel, Jordan and Syria. Still others believe that it started in the mountains of North Africa or even in Japan or China. Some people believe that knitting originated from knitting fishing nets by men.
Some socks and other items made using the cross-stitch technique were found in Egyptian burials, possibly dating to the 4th or 5th century BC. In Egyptian tombs knitted socks were found (3rd and 6th century AD), knitted pieces of Dura-Europe near the Euphrates (about 200 AD) and apparently sandals from Saudi Arabia (approx. 350 AD) It is possible, however, that these earliest socks were made in Nalebinding, an ancient craft that is often very similar to real knitting and could be mistaken for real knitting by archaeologists with no experience in the history of needlework The year 1100 could be the earliest example of "real" knitting or "real" knitting. Socks and stockings were the first to be knitted because the knitting was ideal for shaping a garment that would fit the foot at a time and fabric was less flexible.
The Complete Encyclopedia of Stitchery by Mildred Graves Ryan states that most historians believe that knitting was probably spread by (probably male) Arab sailors and merchants who have traveled the Mediterranean. Many people believe that knitting was first invented by Arab nomads who brought the craft to Egypt, probably in the 5th century AD. The knitting was then carried through North Africa and to Spain. Traveling Catholics arrived from Spain and spread it quickly throughout Europe.
Only in the early 14th century do we have the first indications of real knitting in Europe. At that time, the stitch was unknown, which meant people had to knit by the round for easy knitting and then cut it open when they needed it. The first mention of the Purlstichs took place only in the middle of the 16th century, but the knowledge of how to do that should have been a little before.
Although no one knows exactly where the real knitting started, it seems that the knitting was probably spread by Arab sailors and merchants who have traveled the Mediterranean. Then the traveling Catholics obviously spread quickly throughout Europe. Real knitting is, as we know it, a relatively young craft. However, crafts similar to real knitting, such as cross knitting and napping, have a very long history dating back to before Christ's birth. They were obviously also practiced in many other countries and cultures, from Japan to Egypt to Peru. The knitting clearly filled a need in the manufacture of garments of people that is still stopping and growing.