In my last Knitting History post, we talked about the history and culture of knitting in Ireland. In addition to my Irish heritage, I can claim a similar proportion of ancestry from Germany. So what’s the deal with knitting in Germany?
Bavaria was one of the first places to use 4-5 needles (dpns) for knitting in the round rather than seaming. This painting from Munich, circa 1400, shows the Madonna doing what a fairly typical housewife of the time would be doing – knitting a shirt on dpns. Circular needles, of course, are a much more recent invention.
By the early 1500s Germans (and specifically Plauens), like many people of the era, had developed a distinctive style of lace knitting. What started primarily as a luxury for clerical robes and the linens of nobility became available to the masses with the help of German engineering and early knitting machines in the late 19th century. Lace manufacturing continues to be a significant source of income today in Plauen, Germany.
In the early 1800s, Germans revolutionized knitting again with the new German, or Continental, style of knitting. For those of you who are not Continental knitters, this style is accomplished by carrying the yarn in the left hand, and “picking”, rather than “throwing” the yarn. Some claim that the smaller movements of Continental knitting are better for avoiding Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI) and enable faster knitting.
During WWII, Continental knitting fell out of fashion in the Allied nations. Elizabeth Zimmermann, the English wife of a German, is credited with restoring its popularity in the English-speaking world after immigrating to Wisconsin, USA in the 1950s.
In the next Knitting My Heritage post, we travel to Eastern Europe, to see the history of my Czech and Slovenian ancestors.