An interesting fact about Russian knitting is that the Russians consider hand knitting and crochet to be the same craft, just executed differently.
History of Russian Knitting
Did you know that the first mention of Russian Knitting was around 1578 in the records of a Russian Orthodox convent?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of documented history when it comes to Russian Knitting because very few records were kept do to the lack of organized guilds or companies that knit garments.
Knitting wasn’t a very popular activity until the 17th century when Russian Orthodox clergy began wearing liturgical knit gloves. Before then, long robes were worn that didn’t require stockings, socks or gloves. If they were needed, they were imported from other countries.
Hand knitting did play an important role in women's clothing, which was highly influenced by western fashions, especially where gloves were concerned. I was getting the sense that gloves were very important in Russian history.
Women in servitude (serfs) did the majority of knitting in Russia. There were many instances of knitters losing their sight because of awful working conditions and the huge amounts of intricate work they were required to produce.
Each town did have a small number of independent crafters who produced hand knit garments. They're numbers weren’t large enough to form guilds or companies but most likely were single craftspeople. Hence, the lack of documents.
In the 1920s after the Russian Civil Wars, Russian internees were transported by camel caravans to Eastern China. It was during this period that the art of knitting was passed on to the Chinese who had a ready supply of camel hair to knit with on the way to East China.
The Wedding Shawl
The Orenburg Shawl is one of the classic symbols of Russian Knitting. It originated in the 18th century. The shawl is commonly knit with a unique breed of goat hair found in the Orenburg region, which has both strong and soft down. The goat fiber is spun into a very thin gossamer yarn that's 17 micrometers thick, which is four times thinner than human hair.
Orenburg Shawls are called 'Wedding Ring Shawls' because, although they are quite large, a traditionally knit shawl is so fine it can be pulled through a wedding ring.
Gossamer Webs: The History and Techniques of Orenburg Lace Shawls by Galina Khmeleva and Carol R. Noble is the definitive book on this lace shawl. Click the highlighted link to learn more.
Russian Knitting Techniques
Russian knitting is a ‘picking’, instead of a 'throwing' technique. Instead of throwing the yarn around the right-hand needle, Russians 'pick’ up the yarn by moving the needle head into it. It’s also very common to slip the first stitch of every row. See a tutorial on Craftsy HERE.
There’s also a Russian technique to join yarns that involves working the yarn back through its own plies to keep it in place. The benefit to using this join is that there are no ends to weave in. You can find a Russian Join tutorial from Craftsy by clicking the highlighted link
Russian Knitting Today
Hand Knitting in Russia is very popular due to their geographical location and extremely low temperatures. When there’s sub-zero temperatures outside and you’re miles away from a major city, wool’s insulating properties become a necessity.
Russians experienced 74 years of Soviet rule where they weren’t able to buy quality products so now only the best will do. With a growing affluent and middle class population, a little luxury is in order.
Russian knitting and crochet has emerged from behind the iron curtain and an abundance of creativity and style is being shared all over the world. You can see the many talented Russian Knit and Crochet designers on Instagram.
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Sticks & String,