“Red thread tied to the spinning wheel wound, give her a kick to turn, a fairy tale to begin”. Grandmothers used to begin the narration of fairy tales to their grandchildren using this phrase while at the same time they wound the wool on the distaff!
The weaving industry (textile industry) has its roots in Ancient Greece. Homer mentions the trick of Penelope, who, while waiting for Odysseus to return home, wove the shroud during the day and unwove it at night. We can assume that prehistoric man used fiber such as reed leaves to weave baskets or to make a construction to stay. Then he probably processed the fibers in order to knit clothes to dress himself. According to researches, knitting was done with the hands or feet and without the use of any auxiliary tools. Later, he made wooden or bone needles, which was the beginning of knitting. The first woolen and colorful knitted clothes date back in the period between the 11th and 14th centuries in Egypt but a kind of a toe- parting sock seems to have been knitted in the 4th century AD. However, the word “knit” first appeared in the Oxford Complete English Dictionary only in the 15th century.
In the Middle Ages queens and nuns were the only ones engaged exclusively in knitting and embroidery. Handmade hats, blouses, gloves were among the most popular accessories in 13th century France, while in Scotland the bonnet. A knitted silk pillowcase, in gold and brown colour, was found in the tomb of a Spanish prince. In Spain they were taught the technique of knitting by the Moors. Italian craftsmen spread knitting north of the Alps when they were invited to Prague by Hamburg’s Rodolfo II. Red silk socks were also found in Italy in the mid-16th century; Eleanor de Tolerdo, wife of Cosimo de Medici, was buried wearing them. The reverse stitch appears in them for the first time. Nottingham, in England, became a major hosiery center in 1519, while knitted lace continued to be produced in Ireland. Workers crocheted to face the Great Irish Famine. In addition to women, there were many men who were involved in knitting, mainly in Germany.
At the end of the 16th century every worker was obliged to be a member of a guild, which belonged to the union of weavers. In America, European colonialism helped the spread of knitting. However, some people claim that it was also invented there, as in an ancient Peruvian city a glove was found which is estimated to be knitted in pre-Christian times. In the 19th century, when crochet and lace mania began, women became more and more involved in. An entire industry was set up. Patterns, yarns, needles, crochet hooks and all kinds of accessories helped to develop a global trend, both in clothing and house decor. Α good housewife should have decorative items such as blankets, curtains, valances, doilies, tablecloths, coasters. Later, baby hats and infantile things, as well as knitting using colorful beads, became fashionable.
During the Industrial Revolution, mass production was transferred to factories, where better quality yarns and special knitting tools were made. At the beginning of the last century, sweaters came into fashion for men, women and children. Haute couture included knitting in winter collections, led by Coco Chanel, who used jersey knitting to the fullest. In the 60’s, the House of Missoni launched the colorful dresses with the characteristic zigzag knitting, while the title “Queen of Knitwear” was given to Sonia Riquelme in 1967 for the “Poor Boy Sweater”, which proved that knitwear can follow any trend. At that time, the twinset came in, a set that consists of a short-sleeved top and a long-sleeved cardigan in the same color, while the poncho worn by the Flower Children became very famous. Then, in the 80s, wool and knitwear was considered old-fashioned.
The catholic nunneries on the Greek islands helped spreading knitting to all Greece. The embellishment of the Greek costume was associated with knitting, typical examples are the singlets and the tsourapia, a kind of socks, in the Prefecture of Aetolia. The art and technique of knitting was passed down from generation to generation and was part of every young woman’s inheritance, along with designs and patterns. In the villages, every bride had to have her dowries ready, in public view in order everyone to admire all her skills in handmade knitting. From 1920 onwards, after the Asia Minor Catastrophe, the thousands of refugees who came to Greece brought with them all the know-how in knitting, weaving and carpet weaving.
In 1938, there were 631 textile industries. The subsidies helped exports to Alexandria, Constantinople, Eastern and Central Europe, and later to the United States and England. The Mouzakis companies – Eleftherios Mouzakis went down in history as the “father of the textile industry”, the Lanara family from Naoussa, Christos Panagos of the company and the magazine “Ergochiro” and many more family businesses contributed a lot to the spread of knitting. The first decline began in the 70s and 80s as the rural population stopped supporting the domestic production and turned to ready-made garments and left handmade aside. In 1980 Greece had 1.5 million spindles in running – today about 150,000.
In the new millennium, due to the development of the Internet, the trend of knitting is reviving again. Through websites and videos, one can learn to knit step by step, from a scarf to a regular dress.