8 Reasons Britain Isn’t So Bad

It’s been over 200 years since the Revolutionary War, so hopefully I can say—without angering anyone—that Americans are definitely okay with Britain at this point. And the British have given us some pretty cool things (yes, more than fish and chips and Harry Potter)! There are actually a bunch of awesome British knitting things that you may or may not know about. Let’s discuss!

1. The Word “Knit”

We can track the history of this word all the way back to the Anglo-Saxons, according to A History of Hand Knitting by Richard Rutt, who used the word cnyttan to mean “to tie in or with a knot,” which closely relates to cnotta which means “a knot.” Though the Anglo-Saxons did not knit, they used the word to mean “fasten” or “attach.” The Middle English word knytt broadened the meaning by adding in the sense of “drawing close together.” The term “knit” is finally used in relation to fabric at the end of the fifteenth century.

The Dublin Pullover from Interweave Knits Winter 2017.

2. Fair Isle Knitting

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we love Fair Isle here at Interweave. A Fair Isle knitting pattern typically involves two or more colors in each row, but some garments can use a dozen or more colors. These patterns were first mentioned in 1822 in relation to the caps worn by men in the Shetland Islands off the coast of Scotland. We’ve published countless tips, how-to’s, and color-selection best practices articles, and we also have a lot of Fair Isle patterns and a full course about stranded colorwork.

3. English- and Shetland-Style Knitting

Everyone has a preferred knitting style, and we here at Interweave are thankful for all styles of knitting! Most knitters fall into one of two style categories—English style, or right-handed throwing, or Continental style, or left-handed picking—but there are almost as many styles as there are knitters! Humorously enough, English is often thought of as a slower style of knitting and Shetland the fastest. To learn more about knitting styles, check out this article!

Worthington Gansey from Interweave Knits Winter 2016

4. The Knitted Gansey (or Guernsey)

Originally made for fishermen on the English and Scottish coasts, gansey sweaters are still popular today. The earliest printed reference to a fisherman’s jersey (gansey) is in a report in an 1858 edition of the Cornwall Lammas Assizes newspaper. A man named William Walsh, age 20, was sentenced for “the theft of clothing, including a Guernsey-frock, from James Carter of Illogan.” If you love ganseys, you need to check out the revised edition of Knitted Ganseys, in which Beth Brown-Reinsel explains how to successfully create a variety of knitted gansey garments.

5. Great Shops like the Kettle Yarn Co.

Founded in 2013, Kettle Yarn Co. has dyed yarns that will make your heart sing and notions you’ll be dying to add to your collection. We’re just heartbroken that executing a visit to this local yarn shop is out of our price range.

A narrow knitting frame, circa 1760. The frameworker could work one panel at a time. This machine still works and can make shawls. Photo courtesy of the Framework Knitters Museum, Ruddington.

6. Framework Knitting

In 1589, a man from Nottingham invented the first knitting frame. It started the push toward the mechanization of the textile industry, with framework knitting playing a crucial role in the early stages of the Industrial Revolution. Framework knitting was known as a hard job; most frame knitters worked long hours for very little money. In the early 1800s, workers in Nottingham started the Luddite Rebellion, during which they broke their frames and refused to work. You can learn more about framework knitting and its history through this article and by visiting the Framework Knitting Museum.

I promise, this leather accessory does not belong to Hannibal Lecter. It’s a knitting belt, people! It just happens to be what the fastest knitter in the world uses to remain swift. Image credit to Moray Firth Gansey Project.

7. Knitting Belts

Knitting belts are fantastic! Just ask the fastest knitter in the world, Hazel Tindall, who says the belt supports her knitting and allows her to knit for hours without pain.

Knitting belts are great because:

– They support your knitting, relieving your hands from the strain of the fabric’s weight
– They give your knitting a more uniform appearance (mimicking the look of machine knitting)
– They let you knit faster (couple the belt with Shetland-style knitting and you’ll be among the fastest knitters in the world!)

To learn how to use this beloved historical knitting tool, visit Studio PoK.

8. Knitting Sheaths

Ever wonder how people used to knit on the go with such ease? They might have used a knitting sheath! The knitting sheath is quite similar to the knitting belt, and knitters used it throughout history to make knitting convenient in any location. Each sheath consisted of a shaft and a blade; the shaft had one or more holes to hold the knitting needle that was receiving stitches, and the blade was secured on the side with a leather belt. Knitting was typically done in the round, with four or five needles. Different regions preferred different shapes for their sheaths, but most were made out of wood and were often made by men as tokens for their sweethearts. And while this tradition is adorable, we’re very thankful for circular needles.

See? Eight great reasons to thank, or maybe not be so hard on Britain this Independence Day.


Want more knitting history? Check these out!


  1. EllenD at 3:57 pm July 8, 2018

    From “8 Reasons British Knitting Rocks” to “8 Reasons Why Britain Isn’t So Bad”

  2. Kettle Yarn Co. B at 4:09 am July 9, 2018

    Sarah! Thank you so much for the mention. Means a lot to this tiny one-woman bad. 😉

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