knitting, construction of a fabric made of interlocking loops of yarn by means of needles. Knitting, allied in origin to weaving and to the netting and knotting of fishnets and snares, was apparently unknown in Europe before the 15th cent., when it began to be practiced in Italy and Spain. The Scots claimed its invention and also its introduction into France. Hand-knitting needles are of bone, wood, steel, ivory, or celluloid. Two needles with heads are required for flat or selvage work; three or more, pointed at both ends, for tubular work such as hose; and for larger tubular work, a circular needle. The first knitting machine, invented in England in 1589 by William Lee, was refused a patent by Queen Elizabeth on the grounds that it would curtail the work of hand knitters. Lee's machine, marketed in France, was the forerunner of the warp and circular frames used after 1790; these in turn developed into the two modern types of power machines, the warp and the weft. The springbeard needle of Lee's frame was supplemented in 1847 by Matthew Townsend's latch needle, commonly used for coarse work. In 1864, William Cotton patented a machine by which garments and the heels and toes of hosiery might be shaped. Automatic machines were first introduced in 1889. In weft knitting, which includes hand knitting, the fabric is constructed in horizontal courses with one continuous yarn. The basic stitches are the plain (or jersey), purl, and rib. Either flatbed or circular machines may be used. The warp, or chain-loom, machine, generally flatbed, builds vertical chains, or wales, each having a separate yarn. The wales are tied together by zigzagging the yarns from needle to needle in the basic tricot or milanese stitches or variants of these. The warp-knit fabric is run-resistant but less elastic than the weft.
See B. Abbey, The Complete Book of Knitting (1972).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.