Is Knitting Losing Popularity

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As far as the catwalk is concerned, knitting is back in fashion. Over the past few decades, knitting changed from being utilitarian to fashionable, before losing popularity at the end of the last century. Now, however; there is a newfound interest in this versatile craft, and knitwear is once more a favorite of clothes designers.

The 1950s

Until the late 1950s. most everyday clothing items could and would have been knitted, from socks and underwear to hats and swimsuits, and every other item of clothing in between.There was a pattern available for just about everything, and most households contained at least one knitter among its inhabitants.The fact that not many tools were required and that it was easy to knit while chatting made it a very appealing and practical pastime.

In addition, many household essentials had to be knitted, since, post-war there was very little choice in the shops. Blankets and cushions, kitchen necessities such as potholders, washing and floor cloths, and many other items essential to the home at that time could be hand-knitted at home.

For this reason, children in the 1950s were taught to knit at school. All children would be capable of garter stitch from a very young age, and it was not uncommon for children under the age of I I to be able to knit complex Fair Isle patterns.

The 1960s

During the 1960s, knitting was very fashionable and was an essential skill for young women, and some men, if they wanted to keep up with the fashion trends. Hand-knitted striped tank tops, leg warmers, socks with separate toes, and mufflers with matching gloves were highly fashionable, and being able to make these things oneself gave great kudos to the wearer

The 1970s

Crafts such as sewing, embroidery, knitting, and cooking were still taught in schools until the late 1970s, as well as being passed down from generation to generation, mostly by way of mother to daughter The decision to drop such practical subjects from the school curriculum resulted in a decline of these skills in the ensuing generations.

In the fashion world of the late 1970s, followers of the new styles were wearing mohair sweaters knitted loosely in bright colors, as seen in early Vivienne Westwood collections.

The 1980s

At the beginning of this decade, knitting was still popular and using shapes that were strongly influenced by 1940s fitted garments, even shoulder pads in knitwear, were the fashion of the day. In addition, the trademark emphasis of designers such as Edina Ronay was the use of finer yarns and texture.

Later in the decade, knit styles changed direction again, and the trend was for large picture sweaters. Knitwear designers such as Artwork, Patricia Roberts, and Kaffe Fassett were producing designs using large areas of complicated pattern and color with the accent being on the pattern. The garment shapes tended to be quite simple, allowing the motifs to be the focus. Also fashionable were 1950s-style zip-up cardigans based on the old Mary Maxim patterns.

There was also a more radical look from the new young designers of the day, such as Body Map, who explored shapes in a way that had not been seen before in knitwear: extending sleeves and playing about with the scale of clothes, distorting them and creating fantastic shapes.

The 1990s

Although knitwear was still much in evidence in the 1990s on the catwalk and in stores, it suffered a huge decline as a hobby or pastime.This was the beginning of cheap, mass-produced clothes, when chain stores were closing the gap on designers and starting to reproduce the catwalk styles within months instead of a year.

Throughout this decade, the decline in interest in knitting meant that increasing numbers of yarn stores, craft stores, and notions departments either closed down or were greatly reduced in size.

The value of learning to knit

Being able to knit is a valuable skill in its own right, but the process of learning how to knit has another advantage too: it helps young people integrate right- and left-brain learning, improves concentration, and helps dexterity. It has been continually taught in the creative-minded Rudolph Steiner schools because of these benefits, tt is seen as a fun way of aiding mathematical skills, since being able to add, divide, and multiply are fundamental requirements for knitting. Steiner schools even encourage students to make their own needles from waxed wooden dowels. In this way they are encouraged to take pride in their work from beginning to end, and producing something practical and attractive from scratch gives an overall sense of achievement.

Traditional versus new fabrics

Over the last twenty years, knitwear had been relegated down the ranks of the fashion chain by the development of sports and performance fabrics, which have had a huge influence on fashion trends. People are now realizing, however, that performance fabrics such as fleece do not have the same appeal or shelf life as knitted fabrics made from natural fibers. Materials such as wool or cotton will last much longer and remain in good condition for years if they are looked after Proof of this longevity may be seen in the vintage clothing now being worn by fashionistas.


The popularity of cashmere over the past few years is also part of the revival in interest in natural fibers. For years the fashionable people who could afford to buy their clothes from couture houses have been hailing the virtues of this wonderful yarn, and now it is more accessible than ever before, and most leading designers will have cashmere somewhere in every collection. Even chain stores now have their own-label cashmere styles each season.

Traditional Scottish mills and makers of fine, exclusive knitwear such as Pringle and Lyle & Scott, who have been in business for decades, have seen a boom in their sales due to this newfound interest in knitwear and particularly luxury yarns. Cashmere is lighter and softer than almost any manmade yarn, and warmer than any comparable material.

Designers such as Fake London have also been part of an eco-friendly trend that recycles cashmere and hand-knitted Aran sweaters, restructuring them so that we can appreciate their intrinsic value once more.These updated styles are then shown alongside traditionally made cashmere knitwear in the same fashion collections.

Designers that produce these fabulous garments show that even those of us who cannot afford them can be inspired to achieve the same look ourselves with a bit of effort and a basic knowledge of knitting.

The joy of knitting

There are now books that extol the virtues of simple living, and knitting fits very well into this way of thinking. There is an organization called The Slow Movement that encourages craft as a way of reaching an inner fulfillment. In an age when people spend hours in front of computer screens at home or work and travel on busy trains and subways, the slow, monotonous process of knitting can be both meditative and relaxing. Simply working on something for the pleasure of it, having a creative outlet is extremely potent in a fast-moving world.

The repetitive process of knitting can also provide stress relief, and some knitters believe that their state of mind is apparent in their work: When they are relaxed, their knitting appears smooth and effortless, but if they are tense, their work shows an uneven quality.The rewarding feeling of creating something for oneself, or as a gift is also hugely satisfying. Handmade items have a rare value in today's society:Their charm is in the imperfections, or handmade quality, and giving profound pleasure to both maker and receiver

Being interested in knitting shows an appreciation of handicrafts. It is also a way of stating one's individuality and refusing to be categorized by one's clothes.Through knitting you are creating your own designer heirlooms that will last and last You will not be disappointed with the huge selection of patterns now available: they are all out there waiting.

Organized knitting

Knitting groups and clubs are now popping up everywhere, in towns and cities, on university campuses—even some schools and youth organizations are offering classes to teach knitting techniques to children. Over the last few years, it is thought that four million newcomers in the Western world have discovered knitting, and taken it up as a new hobby, and young urban professionals can now be found meeting in cafés and bars to indulge in this ancient pastime.

A spirit of generosity exists in these groups, where people swap patterns, share yarns, and offer each other a helping hand. (An extreme example of this was a group that got involved with collecting 32 tons of yarn from knitters all around the U.S., which they then distributed to women in the former Yugoslavia so they could create garments. The women benefited financially from the sale of the sweaters, but there were emotional gains too, as the women talked together while knitting, helping to heal the scars of war)

There are now hundreds of web sites that offer advice and tips, free patterns, and other information about the craft, many with links to chat rooms aimed at enthusiasts.

Knitting in the twenty-first century-

Designer knitwear is to be seen on every catwalk this season and is highly influential at the moment Recent editions ofVogue, among others, show page after page of designer knitwear encompassing all styles and using a wide variety of techniques. There are huge, oversized cardigans from Chloe; fitted fine cashmere knits from Prada; bulky cable knits from John Rocha and Eley Kishimoto; and multicolored striped wraps from Missoni and Junya Watanabe. Half of the new up-and-coming designers are using knitwear as the focus of their collections.The future for knitting looks very bright indeed.

Right Knitted ensemble by Missoni, Spring/Summer 2004, Milan, October 2003.

Below Fashion models at a knitting party at Knit New York, February 2004.

Right Knitted ensemble by Missoni, Spring/Summer 2004, Milan, October 2003.

Below Fashion models at a knitting party at Knit New York, February 2004.


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