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.
But 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: