Knitting My (Eastern European) Heritage

Oh my goodness, I can’t believe how long it’s been since I did a Knitting History post! Here are my previous heritage posts on Ireland and Germany, for those (not so) new to the blog.

I can claim a significant amount of Eastern European heritage, from a number of different nations and cultures. Unfortunately, several centuries of political instability in Eastern Europe has limited the amount of written records available on “insignificant” things like knitting, particularly if I try to narrow it down to, say, just Czech knitting history or just Slovenian knitting history. So for the sake of practicality, I’m am doing a more generic “Eastern European knitting” post.

dubrovnik

Dubrovnik, Croatia

First, like English and Continental style knitting, there is a style of knitting generally referred to as “Eastern European”. There are really several sub-styles here, just as English and Continental are both sub-styles of Western knitting. Eastern European knitting is distinct from Western styles because of the angle of the stitch. The side of the loop facing the knitter leans left on the needle, rather than right as in Western styles. You also insert your needle in the back of the stitch rather than the front.

eastern kntting

Photo by Maja via Cloopco

One of the earliest examples of advanced knitting techniques was found in Estonia – a partial Votic mitten with beautiful color work. Archaeologists have determined that it was knit in the Eastern style, and while it was found in the 1940s it was most likely knit in the 13th century. The fragment was found in a Votic woman’s grave. Charmingly, they even found one teeny little mistake in it – a twisted stitch.

votic mitten

Votic Mitten Fragment via strangelove.net

Elsewhere in the Baltic region, plenty more mittens and eventually gloves have been found which date between the 12th and 15th centuries. Tradition in the Baltic region stated that a young woman would be judged by the quality and beauty of the family’s worth of mittens she brought with her dowry, so mittens were often one of the first things a girl would learn to knit. It makes sense that so many of them, then, have survived til today.

baltic mittens

Kids’ mittens photo: Estonian National Museum fund number ERM A556:23//ab

The Balkans can also lay claim to very early examples of knitting, which makes sense if you consider that many scholars believe knitting originated in the Middle East. The Balkans were invaded by the Ottoman Empire well before most of Europe had regular interaction with the Muslim world. Bosnian sock knitting is a more recent trend inspired by the traditional patterns of the Balkans. These were traditionally knit in black and white and used more like slippers than boot socks. After all, why would you want to hide all that color work?!

bosnian socks

Bosnian Socks by Donna Druchunas via Knitty

You could tell a lot about an Eastern European by the socks they wore. Muslim men in the Balkans and Southeast Europe knit their own white stockings, whereas the fashion among Christians in Slavic parts of the Balkans leaned toward elaborately floral stockings. Bridal socks from Macedonia and other parts of Southeastern Europe showed a strong Turkish influence with bands of horizontal color work. Kind of makes me wonder what my socks say about me.

This is just a small collection of info I managed to piece together from various books and websites. If you have more info or clarifications, I would absolutely love to hear it. Please share!

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One response to this post.

  1. […] the next Knitting My Heritage post, we travel to Eastern Europe, to see the history of my Czech and Slovenian […]

    Reply

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