Knitting in Italy and Spain

The increasing demand for knitted products, observable already in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and the parallel improvements in production techniques gave stimulus to the development of hand knitting in the early sixteenth century. The best known is the guild organization of production as it is much better documented than the rural, home or convent production. The dates of statutes indicate usually the registration of several guild workshops. Hand knitting adapted easily to the putting-out system. As a relatively easy technique it did not require expensive tools, but was extremely time-consuming. Hand knitting, as compared to spinning on the spindle, did not disturb other domestic chores to be simultaneously being carried out; it could also constitute one of the activities of itinerants or shepherds. This important feature of knitting was taken into account in the exploitation of the labor force at the beginnings of the capitalist system. Hand knitting was charged to orphans, inmates of forces-labour institutions, convicts and solidiers. Owing to the small size of the articles and the use of simple tools even difficult housing conditions did not constitute an obstacle; only the finishing process required a better equipped workshop. On the other hand, the introduction of the knitting machine was in general linked with the formation of centralized manufactures, which rarely tool the knitwear from domestic production for finishing. The complexity of the machine required the employment of qualified craftsmen and technicians. In this chapter we shall deal mainly with different forms of craft knitting production, which in this branch was characterized by the widest assortment and high standard of products, whilst the non-guild production was rather satisfied the mass demand for cheap hands and legs coverings.

According to all studies concerning the history of knitting this art is supposed to have spread from the Arabs primarily to Spain and Italy.1 These assumptions are quite very similar; however the lack of archival research into the early history of the textile industry limits considerably our knowledge about craft knitting production in these two countries. Preserved relics and references to the import of knitted goods in other countries provide evidence of the production but it is difficult to determine its extent. In Spain, the earliest knitted relics from Burgos, described in Chapter II, are of Arab production. Textile industry centres, like Cuenca, for instance, are lacking in information about the knitting production: in some cases, however, the existence of this branch is well evidenced as in Andalusian Seville or in Castilian Toledo. H. Lapeyre informs about the wide production assortment of silk stockings in Toledo, the buyers on the French court in 1586 demand stocking in Toledo. The buyers on the French court in 1586 demand stockings in the following colours: "3 paires de vert marin, 3 argentées, 3 rouges, 3 bleu céleste, 3 gris foncé, 3 châtain, 3 couleur de pigeon, 1 jaune, 1 blanche, 1 violette, 12 noires. En 1590, Diego de Campo demande 4 paires fauves, 3 gris cendré, 3 bleu-ciel, 2 jaunes, 2 vertes et 2 cramoisies. Le prix d'une paire s'établissait en 1586-1587 a 66 réaux en noir et 68 en couleur".2 The record shows the changes of fashion for coloured stockings, which varied to suit the dress. This trade information concerns expensive silk stockings in a wide range of fashionable colours, and gives us some idea of the export production of Spanish knitting in the sixteenth century, which was probably organized in guilds. The Catalonian knitters' guild existed from 1496, but its activity increases as late as the end of the seventeenth century, the statute being confirmed in 1703. At first the knitters were linked with haberdashers. The importation of machines gave a great production impulse, but only towards 1745.3 Thus only Catalonia possesses documents concerning the group of hand- knitted hosiery producers in existence at the end of the fifteenth century.

Naples, Milan, Genoa and Mantua belong to the group of Italian export centres for knitting. Until now it has only been possible to find mention about the knitted fabrics from these towns, but nothing concerning the guild organization.4 Italian knitting history has not been studied thoroughly, and without any doubt it requires further research. There is an interesting iconographie source, which presents an Italian itinerant knitter from the late sixteenth century. He is shown making stockings from two coloured threads. (II. 8) The itinerant Spanish knitter from the eighteenth century was making stockings too, and carried on his back a stockings tree. (II. 9) Not just archive records from other nations, but iconography as well show the spread of knitting in Italy and Spain. The progress in this production needs more study by historians.

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