Dating the first knitted fabrics presents basic difficulties. Let us discard the undocumented conjectures about the knitted and not sewn robe of Christ mentioned in the Bible, or the reference to Penelope as a knitting woman. The oldest relics of the history of knitting are the socks and other small items of Coptic origin from the first centuries A. D. Nevertheless, D. K. Burnham has established on the basis of technological analysis that the collection of Coptic relics kept in the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto was produced by the knotless netting technique.1 Even earlier, M. Hald, while analysing Danish textile fabrics from the Bronze Age up to the early Middle Ages, established that these were produced by the same technique, although previously they were considered to be knitted items. She describes the knotless netting technique "as a king of sewing based on loops or meshes which can be combined in various way and presents about ten different solutions based on analysis of some kind of relics".2 On the basis of the analysis of a few Coptic relics preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, I am convinced that the theory of D. K. Burnham is correct in this judgment. Nevertheless, all future determinations as to whether a particular sample from the oldest relics has been knitted or produced by knotless netting require individual technological examination. In my investigations only careful registration of these items was possible on the basis of literature or museum research. The oldest knitted items are kept in museums or church treasuries under glass which makes microscopic examination impossible. The present chapter provides information on the oldest knitted relics although after further investigation some of them may prove to be products of knotless netting. (II. 2)
According to some definitions of knitting, one need not place so much importance on the distinction between articles produced by knotless netting and those made with two needles. Knitting is understood to produce a texture composed of elastic rows of stitches made out of a thread of indefinite length by the use of two or more needles, or (more recently) a machine. Knotless netting was made with one needle and the left-hand fingers. In many European languages the name of this technique is in fact connected with the term stitch, e.g. in Spanish —puntos, in Italian — maglia, in German in addition to Strickerei and Wirkerei - hand and machine knitting, the term Maschen is also used. In English, to knit, knitting derives from the very activity,3 similarly as dzianie, dzianka, dzianina (knitting, knitted item, knitwear) in old Polish, wyazanije
- Russian, pleteny, strikowany — Slovak. The term for knitwear is sometimes derived from the most popular product in use, such as French — bonneterie, or Czech puncocharstvi. The technique of knotless netting was differentiated and explained only recently. O. Nordland identified 7-9 methods of twisting and knotting the yarn through in the creation of the fabric. I. Emery, in her compendium on textile techniques, distinguishes not only knitting with needles and crocheting, but also a number of techniques derived from the fundamental stitches in each of these techniques.4
Articles made by knotless netting fulfilled the same purpose as the hosiery of later days: they provided elastic and close- fitting coverings for hands, feet and head, of particular importance in a cold climate. They also protected the feet clothed in sandals only. The difference between knotless netting and knitting is well characterized by the Finnish country proverb: "he who wears knitted mittens has an unskilled wife".5 This differentiation comes from a country where both types of techniques are still in use. Knotless netting was much more time-consuming than knitting and required great nimbleness of the left-hand fingers replacing the instrument. A similar skill was also required in spinning fine yarn on the spindle. The time-consuming technique of knotless netting in the production of gloves, stockings and, less frequently caps, for personal use, is still being used in mountainous regions, particularly in Scandinavia. In Iran, footwear made at home by the knotless netting technique is being used to this day/5 However, this technique is linked with home production for personal use. Whenever the question of economic and technological calculation, the market profitability, is involved, certain qualities of knotless netting-such as greater strength, better compactness, smootheness and durability-are no longer appreciated. The mass demand for elastic garment items displaced knotless netting even from home production. The introduction of two needles instead of one long needle was the first improvement in the field of production of articles consisting of elastic stitches formed from a single thread, much longer in knitting than in knotless netting.
Investigations into the origins of knitting should centre on the analysis of all the excavation material from the territory of the Roman Empire. Despite the queries raised by D. K. Burnham on the origin of some Coptic knitted articles, other relics excavated in Egypt deserve further study. The question remains unclear whether the socks formed part of offerings to the dead or were used as foot coverings.7 Some of the Roman textile relics were recently investigated by J. P. Wild who describes as knitted fabric a fragment found on the territory of present Holland and dated to the end of the second century A. D.8 L. Bellinger considers also as knitted fabric relics from the period prior to the destruction of Dura, therefore, pre-256, kept in the Yale University Art Gallery in USA.9 Similar conclusions were also drawn about the knitted fabrics in English, French and Austrian museums.10 W. Endrei considers as knitted items the fragments of garments found by the Hungarian expedition in Nubia originating from the sixth and seventh centuries A. D. The Coptic linen socks from the sixth-eleventh centuries knitted in stripes with woollen yarn on top from Umelecko-Prumyslove Museum in Prague are knitted, while socks similar in appearance in the Hermitage are a product of knotless netting.11 On the other hand, women's stockings from the second century A. D. found in
Martres-de-Veyre and preserved in Clermont-Ferrand, are sewn from cloth.12 The leggings preserved in Delémont, are dated to somewhere between the seventh and the twelfth centuries.13 The earliest Scandinavian relics have been carefully analysed and judged to be products of knotless netting.14 It has also been established that the knitting technique was unknown in Peru before the Spanish invasion.15 Two ivory needles, each about 28 cm long seem to evidence the familiarity with knitting technique in ancient Gaul; one of them appears to have been broken. They were found in the neighbourhood of Nîmes and are dated to the beginning of the second century A. D. They may have been used for making fine silk tissues.16 This fragmentary data on the relics from the second to the seventh centuries are presented here to show primarily that further technological investigations are necessary to establish whether knitting spread over the territory of the old Roman Empire and later in the Mediterranean world.
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