For most of this century two groups of handknitters in the North Atlantic region have interacted: “in-hand knitters,” who receive the directions for knitted articles almost entirely from other knitters in person, and “print knitters,” who receive and present information about knitted articles in the form of published patterns. Both groups usually learn basic knitting skills in person.
Because there has been no previous study of handknitting, pains have been taken to define and analyze the subject at length in historical, economic, and sociocultural terms, as well as to assess the value of earlier historical and non-academic works on knitting.
Beginning in the late 1800s, a movement began among print dependent knitters to wear, and also to knit, garments traditionally associated with the peasant and fishermen of various northern European countries. In the 1950s a resurgence of interest in handwork joined an interest in “ethnic” clothing to make profitable the publication of collections of knitting patterns, primarily of British and Irish fishermen’s jerseys, Fair Isle and other Shetland sweaters, and Norwegian motif-patterned garments, generally caps, mittens and pullovers. The writers/collectors of the British patterns included ethnographic accounts and travel information on many of the sources of the knitted garments. Scandinavian knitting writers, often art historians, prefaced many works with histories based on archeological and art history artifacts. During the 1980s, serious ethnographic and historico/archeological work onknitting was begun on both sides of the Atlantic, primarily by knitters who were also scholars or who came to their scholarship through knitting or other fiber handcrafts.
A model of the knitting traditionbearing community presented here shows among other things a steady and rapid movement of ethnic, regional, and occupation designs and techniques by means of published knitting patterns from the in-hand knitters to the garment industry. This movement depends primarily on the choice of knitting”antiquarians” to preserve the techniques and processes rather than artifacts and on the ready adaptability of hand-knitting instructions to machine knitting production.