The oldest known knitting in Europe is thought to have taken place in Spain, done by Moorish knitters who probably brought the technique of true knitting out of Egypt. Many such examples of this type of knitting, often topping twenty stitches to the inch, were found in Royal Spanish tombs in cathedrals, where royals were often buried. I have to wonder if these knitters were true employees, as the literature suggests, or were they nothing more than indentured servants or even slaves?
It is a generally accepted fact that the Spanish brought knitting to the Americas during the Conquest. However, textiles dated to around 1100 b.c. have been found in various regions of south America which bear all the marks of true knitting. If this is true, that would mean that what we consider true hand-knitting might have predated the origin of knitting in the middle east.
Knitting in south and central America has long been a man’s occupation, although in modern times women have taken up the art. Knitting needles are often made of discarded bicycle wheel spokes, creating a very fine gauge textile. The indigenous people of this region certainly had a number of fiber producing animals.
Cotton is indigenous to tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world, and was domesticated independently in both the Old World and the New. Cotton fibers, especially short staple cotton, are hard to process by hand. It can be spun into yarn with even the most simple of hand spindles, but in the New World the textile record suggests that cotton was used much more for weaving than knitting. In their natural state, cotton plants can live ten years or more, especially in frost-free areas. Some of the colored strains of cotton can grow as large as a small tree, and I have had Peruvian Brown cotton plants grow to over eight feet tall in just one growing season.
Cotton is still widely harvested by hand in many regions of the world. It was not until the 1950’s that mechanized harvesting equipment came into wide use in most of the developed world. Dried cotton pod edges are sharp, and cotton is very heavy for its relative mass. Hand harvesting is stoop labor at the most demanding level you could ever imagine.
With modern processing methods, and creative fiber blends, cotton makes great sock yarn. It is not very stretchy, so it benefits from a little nylon or spandex, and a silk-cotton blend makes a heavenly pair of summer socks.
The U.S.-Mexico border is as fluid and drapey as the best high-dollar sock yarn. The Tucson Sector is currently the most traveled part of our southern border. Only about ten percent of all border crossers are apprehended. A good number of those crossers are not Mexican, but many do come from central and south America, Asia, and the mid-east. I wonder if any of those folks are carrying knitting needles?