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Knitting

Knitting

Knitting is a method by which yarn is manipulated to create a textile or fabric.

Knitting is a method by which yarn is manipulated to create a textile or fabric. It is used in many types of garments. Knitting may be done by hand or by machine.
Knitting creates stitches: loops of yarn in a row, either flat or in the round (tubular). There are usually many active stitches on the knitting needle at one time. Knitted fabric consists of a number of consecutive rows of connected loops that intermesh with the next and previous rows. As each row is formed, each newly created loop is pulled through one or more loops from the prior row and placed on the gaining needle so that the loops from the prior row can be pulled off the other needle without unraveling.Differences in yarn (varying in fibre type, weight, uniformity and twist), needle size, and stitch type allow for a variety of knitted fabrics with different properties, including color, texture, thickness, heat retention, water resistance, and integrity. A small sample of knitwork is known as a swatch.
History and culture

The word is derived from knot and ultimately from the Old English cnyttan, to knot.

The exact origins of knitting are unknown, the earliest known examples being cotton socks found in Egyptian pyramids.

Nålebinding (Danish: literally "binding with a needle" or "needle-binding") is a fabric creation technique predating both knitting and crochet.

The first commercial knitting guilds appear in Western Europe in the early fifteenth century (Tournai in 1429, Barcelona in 1496). The Guild of Saint Fiacre was founded in Paris in 1527 but the archives mention an organization (not necessarily a guild) of knitters from 1268. The occupation: "cap knitter" describes Margaret Yeo, of London, in 1473.

With the invention in 1589 of the stocking frame, an early form of knitting machine, knitting "by hand" became a craft used by country people with easy access to fiber. Similar to quilting, spinning, and needlepoint, hand knitting became a leisure activity for the wealthy. English Roman Catholic priest and a former Anglican bishop, Richard Rutt, authored a history of the craft in A History of Hand Knitting (Batsford, 1987). His collection of books about knitting is now housed at the Winchester School of Art (University of Southampton).

Properties of fabrics

The topology of a knitted fabric is relatively complex. Unlike woven fabrics, where strands usually run straight horizontally and vertically, yarn that has been knitted follows a looped path along its row, as with the red strand in the diagram at left, in which the loops of one row have all been pulled through the loops of the row below it.

Because there is no single straight line of yarn anywhere in the pattern, a knitted piece of fabric can stretch in all directions. This elasticity is all but unavailable in woven fabrics which only stretch along the bias. Many modern stretchy garments, even as they rely on elastic synthetic materials for some stretch, also achieve at least some of their stretch through knitted patterns.

The basic knitted fabric (as in the diagram, and usually called a stocking or stockinette pattern) has a definite "right side" and "wrong side". On the right side, the visible portions of the loops are the verticals connecting two rows which are arranged in a grid of V shapes. On the wrong side, the ends of the loops are visible, both the tops and bottoms, creating a much more bumpy texture sometimes called reverse stockinette. (Despite being the "wrong side," reverse stockinette is frequently used as a pattern in its own right.) Because the yarn holding rows together is all on the front, and the yarn holding side-by-side stitches together is all on the back, stockinette fabric has a strong tendency to curl toward the front on the top and bottom, and toward the back on the left and right side.

Stitches can be worked from either side, and various patterns are created by mixing regular knit stitches with the "wrong side" stitches, known as purl stitches, either in columns (ribbing), rows (garter, welting), or more complex patterns. Each fabric has different properties: a garter stitch has much more vertical stretch, while ribbing stretches much more horizontally. Because of their front-back symmetry, these two fabrics have little curl, making them popular as edging, even when their stretch properties are not desired.

Different combinations of knit and purl stitches, along with more advanced techniques, generate fabrics of considerably variable consistency, from gauzy to very dense, from highly stretchy to relatively stiff, from flat to tightly curled, and so on.

Texture

The most common texture for a knitted garment is that generated by the flat stockinette stitch—as seen, though very small, in machine-made stockings and T-shirts—which is worked in the round as nothing but knit stitches, and worked flat as alternating rows of knit and purl. Other simple textures can be made with nothing but knit and purl stitches, including garter stitch, ribbing, and moss and seed stitches. Adding a "slip stitch" (where a loop is passed from one needle to the other) allows for a wide range of textures, including heel and linen stitches as well as a number of more complicated patterns.

Some more advanced knitting techniques create a surprising variety of complex textures. Combining certain increases, which can create small eyelet holes in the resulting fabric, with assorted decreases is key to creating knitted lace, a very open fabric resembling needle or bobbin lace. Open vertical stripes can be created using the drop-stitch knitting technique. Changing the order of stitches from one row to the next, usually with the help of a cable needle or stitch holder, is key to cable knitting, producing an endless variety of cables, honeycombs, ropes, and Aran sweater patterning. Entrelac forms a rich checkerboard texture by knitting small squares, picking up their side edges, and knitting more squares to continue the piece.

Fair Isle knitting uses two or more colored yarns to create patterns and forms a thicker and less flexible fabric.

The appearance of a garment is also affected by the weight of the yarn, which describes the thickness of the spun fibre. The thicker the yarn, the more visible and apparent stitches will be; the thinner the yarn, the finer the texture.

Color

Plenty of finished knitting projects never use more than a single color of yarn, but there are many ways to work in multiple colors. Some yarns are dyed to be either variegated (changing color every few stitches in a random fashion) or self-striping (changing every few rows). More complicated techniques permit large fields of color (intarsia, for example), busy small-scale patterns of color (such as Fair Isle), or both (double knitting and slip-stitch color, for example).

Yarn with multiple shades of the same hue are called ombre, while a yarn with multiple hues may be known as a given colorway; a green, red and yellow yarn might be dubbed the "Parrot Colorway" by its manufacturer, for example. Heathered yarns contain small amounts of fibre of different colours, while tweed yarns may have greater amounts of different colored fibres

Hand knitting process

There are many hundreds of different knitting stitches used by hand knitters. A piece of hand knitting begins with the process of casting on, which involves the initial creation of the stitches on the needle. Different methods of casting on are used for different effects: one may be stretchy enough for lace, while another provides a decorative edging. Provisional cast-ons are used when the knitting will continue in both directions from the cast-on. There are various methods employed to cast on, such as the "thumb method" (also known as "slingshot" or "long-tail" cast-ons), where the stitches are created by a series of loops that will, when knitted, give a very loose edge ideal for "picking up stitches" and knitting a border; the "double needle method" (also known as "knit-on" or "cable cast-on"), whereby each loop placed on the needle is then "knitted on," which produces a firmer edge ideal on its own as a border; and many more. The number of active stitches remains the same as when cast on unless stitches are added (an increase) or removed (a decrease).

Most Western-style hand knitters follow either the English style (in which the yarn is held in the right hand) or the Continental style (in which the yarn is held in the left hand).

There are also different ways to insert the needle into the stitch. Knitting through the front of a stitch is called Western knitting. Going through the back of a stitch is called Eastern knitting. A third method, called combination knitting, goes through the front of a knit stitch and the back of a purl stitch.

Once the hand knitted piece is finished, the remaining live stitches are "cast off". Casting (or "binding") off loops the stitches across each other so they can be removed from the needle without unravelling the item. Although the mechanics are different from casting on, there is a similar variety of methods.

In hand knitting certain articles of clothing, especially larger ones like sweaters, the final knitted garment will be made of several knitted pieces, with individual sections of the garment hand knitted separately and then sewn together. Seamless knitting, where a whole garment is hand knit as a single piece, is also possible. Elizabeth Zimmermann is probably the best-known proponent of seamless or circular hand knitting techniques. Smaller items, such as socks and hats, are usually knit in one piece on double-pointed needles or circular needles. Hats in particular can be started "top down" on double pointed needles with the increases added until the preferred size is achieved, switching to an appropriate circular needle when enough stitches have been added. Care must be taken to bind off at a tension that will allow the "give" needed to comfortably fit on the head. (See Circular knitting.)

Materials
Yarn

Yarn for hand-knitting is usually sold as balls or skeins (hanks), and it may also be wound on spools or cones. Skeins and balls are generally sold with a yarn-band, a label that describes the yarn's weight, length, dye lot, fiber content, washing instructions, suggested needle size, likely gauge/tension, etc. It is common practice to save the yarn band for future reference, especially if additional skeins must be purchased. Knitters generally ensure that the yarn for a project comes from a single dye lot. The dye lot specifies a group of skeins that were dyed together and thus have precisely the same color; skeins from different dye-lots, even if very similar in color, are usually slightly different and may produce a visible horizontal stripe when knitted together. If a knitter buys insufficient yarn of a single dye lot to complete a project, additional skeins of the same dye lot can sometimes be obtained from other yarn stores or online. Otherwise, knitters can alternate skeins every few rows to help the dye lots blend together easier.

The thickness or weight of the yarn is a significant factor in determining the gauge/tension, i.e., how many stitches and rows are required to cover a given area for a given stitch pattern. Thicker yarns generally require thicker knitting needles, whereas thinner yarns may be knit with thick or thin needles. Hence, thicker yarns generally require fewer stitches, and therefore less time, to knit up a given garment. Patterns and motifs are coarser with thicker yarns; thicker yarns produce bold visual effects, whereas thinner yarns are best for refined patterns. Yarns are grouped by thickness into six categories: superfine, fine, light, medium, bulky and superbulky; quantitatively, thickness is measured by the number of wraps per inch (WPI). In the British Commonwealth (outside North America) yarns are measured as 1ply, 2ply, 3ply, 4ply, 5ply, 8ply (or double knit),10ply and 12ply (triple knit). The related weight per unit length is usually measured in tex or denier.

Before knitting, the knitter will typically transform a hank/skein into a ball where the yarn emerges from the center of the ball; this making the knitting easier by preventing the yarn from becoming easily tangled. This transformation may be done by hand, or with a device known as a ballwinder. When knitting, some knitters enclose their balls in jars to keep them clean and untangled with other yarns; the free yarn passes through a small hole in the jar-lid.

A yarn's usefulness for a knitting project is judged by several factors, such as its loft (its ability to trap air), its resilience (elasticity under tension), its washability and colorfastness, its hand (its feel, particularly softness vs. scratchiness), its durability against abrasion, its resistance to pilling, its hairiness (fuzziness), its tendency to twist or untwist, its overall weight and drape, its blocking and felting qualities, its comfort (breathability, moisture absorption, wicking properties) and of course its look, which includes its color, sheen, smoothness and ornamental features. Other factors include allergenicity; speed of drying; resistance to chemicals, moths, and mildew; melting point and flammability; retention of static electricity; and the propensity to become stained and to accept dyes. Different factors may be more significant than others for different knitting projects, so there is no one "best" yarn. The resilience and propensity to (un)twist are general properties that affect the ease of hand-knitting. More resilient yarns are more forgiving of irregularities in tension; highly twisted yarns are sometimes difficult to knit, whereas untwisting yarns can lead to split stitches, in which not all the yarn is knitted into a stitch. A key factor in knitting is stitch definition, corresponding to how well complicated stitch patterns can be seen when made from a given yarn. Smooth, highly spun yarns are best for showing off stitch patterns; at the other extreme, very fuzzy yarns or eyelash yarns have poor stitch definition, and any complicated stitch pattern would be invisible.

The two possible twists of yarn

Although knitting may be done with ribbons, metal wire or more exotic filaments, most yarns are made by spinning fibers. In spinning, the fibers are twisted so that the yarn resists breaking under tension; the twisting may be done in either direction, resulting in a Z-twist or S-twist yarn. If the fibers are first aligned by combing them, the yarn is smoother and called a worsted; by contrast, if the fibers are carded but not combed, the yarn is fuzzier and called woolen-spun. The fibers making up a yarn may be continuous filament fibers such as silk and many synthetics, or they may be staples (fibers of an average length, typically a few inches); naturally filament fibers are sometimes cut up into staples before spinning. The strength of the spun yarn against breaking is determined by the amount of twist, the length of the fibers and the thickness of the yarn. In general, yarns become stronger with more twist (also called worst), longer fibers and thicker yarns (more fibers); for example, thinner yarns require more twist than do thicker yarns to resist breaking under tension. The thickness of the yarn may vary along its length; a slub is a much thicker section in which a mass of fibers is incorporated into the yarn.

The spun fibers are generally divided into animal fibers, plant and synthetic fibers. These fiber types are chemically different, corresponding to proteins, carbohydrates and synthetic polymers, respectively. Animal fibers include silk, but generally are long hairs of animals such as sheep (wool), goat (angora, or cashmere goat), rabbit (angora), llama, alpaca, dog, cat, camel, yak, and muskox (qiviut). Plants used for fibers include cotton, flax (for linen), bamboo, ramie, hemp, jute, nettle, raffia, yucca, coconut husk, banana fiber, soy and corn. Rayon and acetate fibers are also produced from cellulose mainly derived from trees. Common synthetic fibers include acrylics,[16] polyesters such as dacron and ingeo, nylon and other polyamides, and olefins such as polypropylene. Of these types, wool is generally favored for knitting, chiefly owing to its superior elasticity, warmth and (sometimes) felting. It is also common to blend different fibers in the yarn, e.g., 85% alpaca and 15% silk. Even within a type of fiber, there can be great variety in the length and thickness of the fibers; for example, Merino wool and Egyptian cotton are favored because they produce exceptionally long, thin (fine) fibers for their type.

A single spun yarn may be knitted as is, or braided or plied with another. In plying, two or more yarns are spun together, almost always in the opposite sense from which they were spun individually; for example, two Z-twist yarns are usually plied with an S-twist. The opposing twist relieves some of the yarns' tendency to curl up and produces a thicker, balanced yarn. Plied yarns may themselves be plied together, producing cabled yarns or multi-stranded yarns. Sometimes, the yarns being plied are fed at different rates, so that one yarn loops around the other, as in bouclé. The single yarns may be dyed separately before plying, or afterwards to give the yarn a uniform look.

The dyeing of yarns is a complex art that has a long history. However, yarns need not be dyed. They may be dyed just one color, or a great variety of colors. Dyeing may be done industrially, by hand or even hand-painted onto the yarn. A great variety of synthetic dyes have been developed since the synthesis of indigo dye in the mid-19th century; however, natural dyes are also possible, although they are generally less brilliant. The color-scheme of a yarn is sometimes called its colorway. Variegated yarns can produce interesting visual effects, such as diagonal stripes; conversely, a variegated yarn may obscure a detailed knitting design, such as a cable or lace pattern.

Metal wire

There are multiple commercial applications for knit fabric made of metal wire by knitting machines. Steel wire of various sizes may be used for electric and magnetic shielding due to its conductivity. Stainless steel may be used in a coffee press for its rust resistance.

Metal wire can also be used as jewelry.

Glass and wax

Knitted glass combines knitting, lost-wax casting, mold-making, and kiln-casting. The process involves:

  1. knitting with wax strands
  2. surrounding the knitted wax piece with a heat-tolerant refractory material
  3. removing the wax by melting it out, thus creating a mold
  4. placing the mold in a kiln where lead crystal glass melts into the mold
  5. after the mold cools, the mold material is removed to reveal the knitted glass piece.
Tools

The process of knitting has three basic tasks:

  1. the active (unsecured) stitches must be held so they don't drop
  2. these stitches must be released sometime after they are secured
  3. new bights of yarn must be passed through the fabric, usually through active stitches, thus securing them.

In very simple cases, knitting can be done without tools, using only the fingers to do these tasks; however, knitting is usually carried out using tools such as knitting needles, knitting machines or rigid frames. Depending on their size and shape, the rigid frames are called stocking frames, knitting boards, knitting rings (also called knitting looms) or knitting spools (also known as knitting knobbies, knitting nancies, or corkers). There is also a technique called knooking[19] of knitting with a crochet hook that has a cord attached to the end, to hold the stitches while they're being worked. Other tools are used to prepare yarn for knitting, to measure and design knitted garments, or to make knitting easier or more comfortable.

A knitting needle or knitting pin is a tool in hand-knitting to produce knitted fabrics. They generally have a long shaft and taper at their end, but they are not nearly as sharp as sewing needles. Their purpose is two-fold. The long shaft holds the active (unsecured) stitches of the fabric, to prevent them from unravelling, whereas the tapered ends are used to form new stitches. Most commonly, a new stitch is formed by inserting the tapered end through an active stitch, catching a loop (also called a bight) of fresh yarn and drawing it through the stitch; this secures the initial stitch and forms a new active stitch in its place. In specialized forms of knitting the needle may be passed between active stitches being held on another needle, or indeed between/through inactive stitches that have been knit previously.

Knitting styles/holds
Continental/German style

Continental knitting is achieved by holding the yarn in your left hand for both knitting and purling. Patterns are created on the outside (public-facing) side of the piece.

Norwegian style

While knit stitches are worked as in the classic Continental style, the purl is worked by leaving the yarn at back and moving the needle.

Russian style

Another variation on Continental knitting, this style is achieved by "picking" up the yarn by moving the needle head into it. Now wrap the yarn around the index finger on that left hand, so it’s coming over the top of your finger and back around underneath it and on top of your middle finger. You’ll wind up with your index finger very close to the back of your left-hand needle. In Russian knitting, it is common to slip the first stitch of every row.

English style

English-style knitting is achieved by holding the yarn in your right hand. Patterns are created on the outside (public-facing) side of the piece.

Portuguese/Greek/Incan/Turkish style

This style is achieved by carrying the yarn around the neck or from a necklace-style hook, allowing the knitter to knit on the reverse (purl) side, e.g. "inside out" compared to Western knitting techniques. Patterns are typically created by stranding the yarn on the outside of the piece. This is an ancient style of knitting, which spread from Arabic culture to the Iberian peninsula, during its occupation by Muslims. Hence this style was taught to Indigenous South Americans, during conquest by Spanish/Portuguese colonists.

Health benefits

Studies have shown that hand knitting, along with other forms of needlework, provide several significant health benefits. These studies have found the rhythmic and repetitive action of hand knitting can help prevent and manage stress, pain and depression, which in turn strengthens the body's immune system, as well as create a relaxation response in the body which can decrease blood pressure, heart rate, help prevent illness, and have a calming effect. Pain specialists have also found that hand knitting changes brain chemistry, resulting in an increase in "feel good" hormones (i.e. serotonin and dopamine) and a decrease in stress hormones.

Hand knitting, along with other leisure activities, has been linked to reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and dementia by preventing memory loss. Much like physical activity strengthens the body, mental exercise makes the human brain more resilient. It is wonderful to have a resource like knitting to have because it can be done anywhere. It is easy to do anywhere and has minimal materials and props to carry around with you, making it a very pleasurable and simple hobby that gives wonderful benefits.

A repository of research into the effect on health of hand knitting can be found at Stitch links, an organization founded in Bath, England.

Knitting also helps in the area of social interaction; knitting provides people with opportunities to socialize with others. Some ways to increase social interaction with knitting is inviting friends over to knit and chat with each other. Even if they've never knitted before this can be a fun way to interact with friends.Many public libraries and yarn stores host knitting groups where knitters can meet locally to engage with others interested in hand crafts.

Another interesting way that knitting can positively impact one's life is improving the dexterity in your hands and fingers. This keeps the fingers limber and can be especially helpful for those with arthritis. Knitting can reduce the pain of arthritis if people make it a daily habit

Timeline

Further Resources

Title
Author
Link
Type
Date

Knitting Without Tears. Simon & Schuster,

Zimmermann, Elizabeth

Web

1972

Stitch 'n Bitch: The Knitter's Handbook

Stoller, Debbie.

Web

2004

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