Ancient Middle East Craft is Knitting Bridges

Often-ridiculed craft with ancient Middle Eastern roots serves as gentle conduit to change. 

It’s pretty much agreed that the origins of knitting are placed somewhere in the Middle East. The craft spread to Europe via Mediterranean trade routes, then on to the Americas with European colonization. Some of the earliest examples of knitting have been found in Egypt: a tatty pair of Egyptian woolen socks estimated to be 1500 years old are on display in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

I confess. I knit like a woman possessed. Knit my whole life: through lectures, on subways, in meetings, and sitting in the dentist’s chair. And this Chick with Sticks has endured every joke in the surprisingly large book of knitting wisecracks.

Knitting flows in and out of style with tidal precision, but once hooked, a knitter generally stays committed for life. Knitters seek other knitters. Knitting groups form. And in short order the knitting becomes secondary to the conversation and connectivity of the knitters themselves. Therein lays its power.

The internet amplifies this natural tendency of knitters to sit and knit and chit and chat, and there are plenty of knitting web sites to choose from. Several specific to the Middle East, knitters have come online via fiber arts website Ravelry which offers members a chance to create sub-groups bespoke to their particular interests.

There’s Muslim Knitters where you can get tips on knitting a cool kafti, and Veiled Knitters offers recipes for yarmulke and flowing headscarves.

Jordan Fiber promotes knitting, spinning and weaving using locally sourced wool, silk and cotton.  Their ultimate aim is to grow the Jordanian natural fiber industry.

middle east knittingBut the most interesting site I’ve discovered is Knitting Our Way to Peace, a gentle little blog “about knitting, life, books, music and dispelling some religious stereotypes and myths along the way.”

Creators Hanane and Katie, a Muslim and a Jew, met at a knit-along swap and quickly became friends. Their initial chat on knitting moved on to respective religions, and then to the day to day ephemera that make up life. Their blog is aimed at “teaching people that Jews and Muslims have things in common.” In this case, it starts with knitting.

At a recent knitting convention back in the States (yes, we have conventions), seeing that many of the 1,600 attendees were packing some serious excess poundage, a friend-in-knitting-geekiness observed “well it’s hardly an aerobic sport.”

Maybe not, but if it can incite connections that lead to change, I think it sort of qualifies for the Olympics.

Read more on knitting in the Middle East:
Knit a Beard Hat
2 Knitting Needles Studio
Urban Knitting in the Studio
Handspun Knitting on Etsy

tottoto /

About Laurie Balbo

At university, she was annoyed that her architecture degree was called a Bachelor of Environmental Design. As a working architect, she was annoyed that projects weren’t designed with more environmental consideration. She’s a usually-annoyed architect and sustainability specialist who hopes that venting her frustrations will make a positive environmental difference. Her husband just hopes it makes her less annoyed. Born in the United States, Laurie has managed design and managed construction of ports and airports in New York, Dublin and now Amman. She blogs on knitting and other arcane topics at Laurie can be reached at [email protected]

12 thoughts on “Ancient Middle East Craft is Knitting Bridges

  1. emily

    Great Hanane – when I initially checked your site it seemed you’d stopped blogging – happy to see you back in action! we’ll be watching for updates here in Amman!

  2. Hanane

    Thank you for featuring our blog and our Ravelry Group. I have started blogging again, thanks to you. Please stop by and see how it is re-shaping up!

    I started a KAL. Knit A Long Join us in knitting a pair of mittens for yourself or for a charity. The patterns I posted as options are all basic simple patterns and are FREE!!!

    Thanks again

  3. Laurie Balbo

    With each relocation I make, it’s been increasingly difficult to find natural fibers locally.
    I’m getting nervous that I will soon be stepping up my game to include spinning –

    So Jen, where in the world do you do your needlework?

  4. Jen Garr

    Laurie – thanks for your great post! I’m an avid crocheter myself and love to hear about fellow yarn lovers all over the world.

    Catherine – please share your story!

  5. Laurie Balbo

    And thanks back at you for your kind message!

    Do check out Ravelry – and perhaps encourage your workshop to start its own “group”: a generous way to open doors to what you guys are up to, let in knitters who aren’t so lucky to be living in your slice of the globe (<–including me! Do you have a link to your workshop? Would love to see what's happening in Sultanahmet!).


  6. Catherine Bayar

    As a compulsive knitter myself, I love to learn about other women knitting bridges in this part of the world. Our workshop in Sultanahmet, Istanbul is involved in ‘sharing the common language of craft’ much like the groups you mention. We communicate though yarn, stitches, cups of tea and lots of laughter. As you say…”the knitting becomes secondary to the conversation and connectivity of the knitters themselves. Therein lays its power.” These connections do lead to change and understanding. Thanks for your post, Laurie.


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