Monday, April 30, 2012


The words wool, yarn, felt, silk, spin, weave, and dye all have the same sense today as they did in Old English; this is evidence of the ancient heritage of the spinners' and weavers' textile craft. However, the word knit has a history of varied meanings as it evolved through the centuries. The word cnyttan, which is the mother of our textile word knit, meaning to tie or join by knotting, is Old English. In 1377, cleric William Langland in The vision of William concerning Piers Plowman, used the term in its sense of knotting as he wrote in Middle English, "To bugge a belle of brasse... And knitten on a colere...And hangen it vp-on e cattes hals" (To forge a brass bell and to knit [it] on a collar and hang it upon a cat's neck). In 1607. Reverend Samuel Hieron wrote an Early Modern English example of this connotation "to tie" in his A defence of the ministers reasons for refusall of subscription to the Booke of Common Prayer: Look to the first marriage that euer was: “The Lorde Himselfe knit the knot."
The term knit as we know it in the modern textile sense began its evolution in the Middle English of the thirteenth century; the meaning "to knot string in open meshes to form a net" began its evolution about 1290: "Ase man knut a net: i-knut swithe harde and stronge" (As a man may knot a net: knit very hard and strong). The modern meaning of forming fabric by inter-looping yarn or thread first appeared in the sixteenth century. For example, in 1591, Shakespeare wrote in his play The Two Gentlemen of Verona, "She can knit him a stocke." The specific sense of knitting in plain stitch, as opposed to purl stitch, appeared in the 1890 pattern directions of Therese de Dillmont's Encyclopedia of Needlework: "Piqué pattern...1st and 2nd row purl 7, knit 1, purl 1, knit 1. [etc.]."
The knitting term garter as in garter stitch, evolved from the Old French term garet, meaning the bend of the human knee, or the lower part of the leg in animals. This word first appeared in the written work of the fourteenth century. The earliest Old English meaning of garter is "a band worn round the leg, either above or below the knee, to keep the stocking from falling down." For instance, in 1382, English theologian John Wyclif scribed in Middle English, "Fro a threed of the weeft vnto a garter" (Sew a thread of the weft into a garter). Garter stitch is a combination word and is a basic stitch in knitting; it was originally used in making garters and it is also called plain knitting. The phrase garter stitch first appeared in 1909 in The Daily Chronicle: "Sixty stitches are loosely cast on, and sixty rows of garter-stitch knitted." Just as the term purl evolved from the meaning "decorative" to the name of a specific knitting stitch, the word garter transitioned over a 7000-year period from the original meaning "bend of the knee." 

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