Artifact Corner: Knitting Needles

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at these delicate and beautiful knitting needles. These needles are made from bone with little tiny ebony beads at the end of the them. We think these knitting needles are from the mid Victorian period, but they could be older. We are not sure who in the family was a knitter, but we actually have a variety of knitting needles in our collections. Let’s learn a bit more about knitting and it’s origins.

Knitting is defined as making a garment or fabric by interlocking loops of one or more yarn, either by hand with knitting needles, or by machine. The earliest examples of what we would consider modern knitting are from Northern Africa and date to around 1,100 to 1,300 CE. It is a sock made with white and blue yarn. Prior to this period, people had a method of knotting yarn to make garments using a single needle. That process was known as nalbinding, and is incredibly labor intensive, and required quit a bit of dexterity. The more modern form of knitting made the process of creating a textile or garment much easier and more time efficient. Knitting spread throughout Europe in the 14th Century, and quickly became the popular amongst laborers at the time. Having a knit wool jumper (or sweater as we call them in the US), and knit wool socks became the insanely popular with sailors and mariners in the 15th and 16th Centuries. Unsurprising, as when wool gets wet it still retains it’s warmth. In 1589 a machine for knitting was invented by the Englishman William Lee. He created the stocking frame or the knitting machine, the first ever device that imitates the hand movements of a knitter. The machine produced a pretty coarse fabric in it’s first iteration, but he later refined it to the point where it could knit fine silk stockings.

Due to the invention of the knitting machine, hand knitting in Europe began to die out, except in maybe the poorer parts of Europe. The only people who had the time to devote to it were wealthy women who enjoyed the process of what was known as “fancy knitting.” This technique was used to created elaborate textiles with incredible patterns. Knitting was also considered an acceptable way for women to earn a living in the 18th and 19th Centuries. If a woman lost her husband, or did not have the ability to do manual labor, knitting was a way to earn a respectable income. The first recorded knitting schools were established in Lincoln, Leicester, and York in the late 16th century. Hand-knitting for income continued in Yorkshire until well into the 19th century. It was also taught in orphanages and poor houses as a useful skill or potential trade. Today hand knitting is incredibly popular, and in 2016 it was estimated that around 28.8 million Americans were knitting or crocheting their own projects.

Our knitting needles are in quite good condition, despite a bit of warping of one of the needles. This is not uncommon with a natural material that may have been in too moist or too dry a place for some time. We’d love to know if you are knitting anything right now, leave us a comment down below. These needles are beautiful pieces, and we are so lucky to have them in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,