Knitting is one of several ways to turn thread or yarn into cloth. Unlike woven fabric, knitted fabric consists entirely of horizontal parallel courses or rows of yarn. Knitting can be done either by hand or by machine. In practice, hand knitting is usually begun (or "cast on") by forming a base of twisted loops of yarn on a knitting needle. A second knitting needle is then used to reach through each loop (or stitch) in succession in order to snag a loop of yarn and pull a length back through the loop. This forms a new stitch at the top of the current stitch (or loop). Work can proceed in the round (circular knitting) or by going back and forth in rows. Knitting can also be done by machines, which use a mechanical system to produce nearly identical results.
Knitted garments are most commonly made in pieces, where individual sections of the garment are knit separately and then sewn together once all the pieces have been completed. Seamless knitting, where a whole garment is knit as a single piece is also possible. Smaller items, such as socks and hats are usually knit in one piece on double pointed needles.
There are many regional styles of knitted garments with long histories, such as guernseys, jerseys, arans, and Fair Isle patterns.
History of Knitting
The earliest definite examples of knitting date from Egypt in the 14th century, although some claim that the technology dates back into centuries BC. The first knitting trade guild was started in Paris in 1537, establishing the occupation as male-dominated for centuries. Knitting became a household occupation with the growing popularity of knitted socks and by the end of the 1600's, one to two million pairs of stockings were exported from Britain to other parts of Europe.
With the invention of the knitting machine, knitting "by hand" became a useful but nonessential craft, and its practitioners increasingly female. Similar to quilting, spinning, and needlepoint, knitting became a social activity, performed while the crafters converse among themselves.
Yarn and knitting needles are the basic equipment needed to accomplish hand-knitting. Yarn is a long continuous length of interlocked fibers. A knitting needle is a long stick or used as a tool in the manufacture of hand knitted fabric. Knitting needles have also been called knitting sticks, knitting pins, knitting wires, or simply wires or rods. Length and thickness of the needles vary depending on the type of yarn used (i.e., fine or thick) and the type of fabric to be produced (i.e., firm or loose).
The most widely recognized form of knitting needle, is usually called a straight needle. Straight needles are narrowed nearly to a point at one end and capped at the other with a knob or flat head, and are used almost exclusively for knitting flat two-dimensional fabrics like rectangles and squares. The needles are popular because the knob at the end of each needle prevents the stitches from falling off the needles.
The oldest known knitting needles, still very much in use, are double-pointed needles. They are generally used to form tubular (circular) fabrics such as socks and the bodies or sleeves of sweaters. As the name implies, double-pointed needles are tapered at both ends nearly to points. They are normally used in sets of four or five needles.
Both tubular and flat knitting is also done on circular needles, today consisting of two pointed needles joined together by a flexible wire or length of nylon. Some manufacturers sell the two needles and the joining length of nylon separately. The two ends are used exactly like two needles, in the sense that the knitter holds one in each hand and knits as if having two separate needles.
Modern knitting needles are made of bamboo, aluminum, steel, wood, plastic, and casein.
A knitting machine is a device used to create knitted fabrics in a semi- or fully automated fashion. There are numerous types of knitting machines, ranging from the simple, non-mechanical, to the highly complex and electronic. All, however, produce various types of knitted fabrics, usually either flat or tubular, and of varying degrees of complexity. Pattern stitches can be selected by hand manipulation of the needles, or with push-buttons and dials, mechanical punch cards, or electronic pattern reading devices and computers.
A few simple devices permit knitting without needles for toy or hobby purposes. The simplest of these is spool knitting, followed by knitting boards or knitting looms, which consist of two rows of pins mounted in two parallel rows approximately 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) apart. Yarn is wound around the pins; various patterns of winding produce different textured knitting. A needle or special tool is then used to transfer the loops of yarn from around the pins, either off the pins or to other pins, to produce the knitting. Knitting boards can produce complex designs. Other semi-mechanical knitting devices are available.
To produce larger and more complex knitted items such as garments, domestic and industrial machines, with either flat or circular beds that produce rectangular or tubular fabrics are needed. Double bed machines have two flat beds facing each other, in order to produce purl and plain rib fabrics plus a variety of multi patterns. Ribbing attachments can be added to single bed machines to achieve a similar result.
Late 20th century domestic/studio models typically use up to 200 latch-hook needles to hold the stitches in fine, standard, mid-gauge or bulky gauge needle. A carriage or cam box is passed across the bed of needles causing the needle movements required to produce each next stitch. By means of various selection methods, e.g. punch cards, particular needles can be caused to travel by alternate pathways through the cam box. Thus needles will knit or not, and the unknitted yarn portions will lie under (slip stitch) or over the needle or be held in the needle hook (tuck stitch). Needles can be placed in holding position to allow short row shaping. In the most modern machines, punchcards have been replaced by computer control.
Domestic knitting machines use the weft knitting method which produces a fabric similar to hand knitting. The fabric produced using a knitting machine is of a more even texture than hand-knitted fabric, which is particularly noticeable on large areas of plain stockinette stitch, and can be an advantage. Some stitch patterns (e.g., tuck stitches) are much easier to produce with a knitting machine. Others (e.g. garter stitch) can also be produced with machine knitting but can take a little longer but still much faster than hand knitting. The standard gauge 200-needle machine can knit the finest yarns up to a good sport-weight, while the heavier yarns knit better on a mid-gauge or bulky knitting machine. Machine knitting saves a considerable amount of time but does require learning to operate the machines correctly. Most if not all hand knitting patterns can be worked up on a machine, either identically or in a similar design.