The Romance of Hand-Knitting By Harleen Gurunay Majithia

“In the rhythm of the needles, there is music for the soul”

That time of the year when a light breeze gently feathers across the skin and the sun cheers everyone with the loveliness of its sunshine. When the earth smells of ripeness and fullness, fruit and bounty; and the air is filled with notes of love and laughter. It is then that many sitting in their cozy nooks pick up the needles to knit comfort and warmth, stitch by stitch, for the approaching winters. Knitting has always been associated with peace, healing and pleasant childhood memories. Hand knitting is a beautiful expression of love involving the use of two or more needles to loop yarn into a series of interconnected loops in order to create a finished garment. It is a craft that has given comfort to many a generation across the globe since ages.

A brief history

Most histories of knitting place its origin somewhere in the Middle East, and from there it spread to Europe by Mediterranean trade routes, and later to the Americas with European colonization. The oldest knitted artifacts are socks from Egypt, dating from 11th century C.E. While in Europe the earliest known knitted items can be traced to the Spanish Christian Royal families who employed Muslim knitters. Several paintings from Europe portray the Virgin Mary knitting including ‘Our Lady Knitting’ by Tommaso da Modenna. There is also mention of knitting in the plays by Shakespeare that were written between 1590 and 1610. In 17th and 18th century hand knitting became an important occupation in Scottish Isles. By mid 19th century hand knitting declined due to the increasing use of mechanical knitting machines. In India, scholars do not have a fixed time period assigned to the introduction of knitting. There is no ancient word in Sanskrit for knitting. Even in Hindi language, the term for knitting is bunaai which means weaving. Textile expert Toolika Gupta is of the opinion that when knitting was introduced in India, it was instantly called bunaai for lack of better word.  Therefore, the word ‘weaving’ or bunaai has been synonymous with knitting in this country.

Present scenario

The popularity of any craft has always swayed along the ongoing fashions of the eras and the changing values of the society. The 1920s saw a rise in demand for sweaters and pull-overs with statement styles being set by the likes of Prince Wales (future Edward VIII) wearing Fair Isle sweater to play golf and Coco Chanel incorporating knitwear in high fashion. It was a much sort after craft during the war years too. Again in 1950s and 1960s knitting gained huge popularity with introduction of more bright colours and styles of yarn. But the point to be noted here is that knitting as a hand craft had already lost its charm by this time. It was in mid 19th century itself that hand knitting was taken over by knitting industry and survived only as hobby. By late 20th century it further saw a decline and was rarely taught as a craft in school. With many knitting groups emerging, 21st century indeed saw a resurgence of this craft amongst Millennials but still fails to pass on the skills of this craft to Gen Z who is more occupied with virtual world errands than the real world charm.

Great gift of knitting

Hand knitting is not merely a creative leisure activity. With increasing number of mental health issues, sense of lack, broken families – knitting is a craft that can provide immense therapeutic results. The truth is that the romance of hand knitting is vanishing when it is needed the most. Hand knitting relaxes the mind, soothing its electric sparks by focusing the thoughts in the moment. It makes you still, helps gather yourself and centers your being. More so, it disciplines the faculties of mind and body, thereby increasing patience and concentration. Pain specialists have found that hand knitting changes brain chemistry, resulting in an increase in ‘feel good’ hormones (i.e. serotonin and dopamine). Interestingly, the craft of hand knitting being a binary wrapping code of knit and purl stitches, serves as one of the best brain exercises to increase I.Q. as well. Studies have also shown that knitting has helped reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The gift of hand knitting certainly lies in its healing nature. It is a craft in which sweetness is infused and calm induced. As is said –

 “Sweet contents knit in my soul, in a million happy stitches”

So just do it!

Tools & Material: Knitting needles, yarns, row counter, stitch holder

Basics: Learn how to cast on the needle, i.e. put the yarn on the needle

             Learn to do a knit stitch and purl stitch

             Learn to cast off the live stitches

             And you’re ready to make that scarf for this Christmas!

Advanced stitches: Cable stitch, Plaited stitch, Dip stitch

Stitch patterns: Garter stitch, Basket stitch, Herrington stitch, Fishermen Rib stitch