Knitting in its basic form is a series of knots created using two needles to make a fabric; the word itself reflects this knotty nature as it comes from the Dutch verb knutten and the old English word cnyttan both meaning to knot. ***** stop press ***** see below *****
Sometimes ancient fabric which appears to be knitted is confused with Nalbinding, which is an ancient technique that only uses one needle and has often been mistaken for knitting or crochet.
Historians disagree about the origin of knitting, some say it originated from the Middle East with trading routes bringing the craft to Europe; whilst others say it originated in Scandinavia. Early examples of knitting have been found in Egypt and cotton appears to have been the favourite yarn for early sock knitwear, closely followed by silk garments. These yarns are suggestive of the fact that knitting originated in the hotter Middle East.
This article on Knitty by Julie Theaker makes interesting reading and contains some images of early knitting, as well as raising some questions about the development of knitting throughout the ages.
Another interesting article summing up the research of Richard Rutt can be found here. Of course it is only in recent years that knitting has become a hobby and not a necessity. It wasn't just garments that were made from this cleverly knotted fabric, as cushions were another early favourite.
I mentioned this little article on a thread in the Historic Knitting Forum and it generated some interesting replies. Here is the link to the thread. In summary the threads contian the following points:
- knitting is not knots it's loops because the ends are not fastened off until the end of the piece of fabric.;
- cnyttan actually means to tie or join.
The thread is actually about knitted burial stockings and makes interesting reading.