Will Europe go knitting?

(Red socks, Albert & Victoria Museum, London)

Did you know that one of the oldest examples of knitting is a pair of red socksfrom the period 250 – 420 AD? These feet warmers were found on an archaeological site in Egypt, in a onetime Greek settlement. So we could say that this was possibly the first pair of Greek Knitted Socks. They are made to be worn with sandals and they have space for incredibly large and long big toes.

According to Wikipedia the English word knitting comes from the Dutch word knot. So in Dutch the actual word breien should be knotting. The knitting started with one needle and making knots (nålebinding) and is said to have been invented in the Middle East. The Muslims brought it with them to Europe and European colonists took their knitting needles with them to America.

Around the 14th century knitting became fairly popular, proved by several paintings depicting a knitting Virgin Mary. Or maybe it was a campaign to get the women to take up the needles. Watching such an industrious Mary calms you down, so much that you immediately start looking for your knitting gear.

The first knitting machine appeared in 1589. But only in the mid 19th century did industrial machines take over the woolly handwork business. Now knitting is seen as a hobby. I took up the knitting needles again when I saw what beautiful and colourful wool they make nowadays. In one winter I can now fabricate a total new winter collection. My hands must be busy doing something while watching a movie or reading a book and I am now as hooked to my knitting needles, as some persons are to their mobile phones.

I mostly only knit in the winter, in times that the weather gods have cooled off a bit. When you work with wool threads in the heat, your hands get sweaty and the knitting stiff. The warm climate of Lesvos might be a reason that there is no great knitting tradition on Lesvos, even though there used to be plenty of sheep and goat wool. The women preferred to make embroideries and sat down at their looms. Besides wool they also used clothing and drapes, torn in strokes, to weave into colourful carpets.

Like centuries ago when the knitting works came to Europe, there is a new run from the Middle-East to Europe. The refugees now use Lesvos as a gateway to Europe and the stream of refugees is like a dam that broke; there is no way to stop the flood of people. This year the number of refugees has largely surpassed the number of inhabitants of Lesvos (about 85.000) and last week the daily arrival had risen to 2000. Sheltering those people is still done by volunteers, helped only by a number of officials that can be counted on one hand.

When those refugees step out of their rickety dinghies, they get wet. Result is that on places where they take a rest fences are modified into clotheslines, just like the lines where normally the squids are dried. The hot sun is a super dryer, but when the winter comes, the washing program will have to be changed and wet clothes will become a burden. Had Europe at the beginning of the summer put tills on the Greek islands, now, one season on, it would not be surprised and overwhelmed by the number of refugees knocking on the doors of the ‘ruling’ European countries. Unlike the politicians, I do look forward and this summer I started to knit.

When I was young there were plenty of faraway aunts who gave me the most poorly created handknitted sweaters which I had to wear. I hated them so much that until now I have not dared to surprise a friend (or a refugee) with a handmade sweater. So I knit caps. One evening I realised that it will take some time before I can make enough caps for the passengers of even one boat (on average 50 people) and I will never have enough for a one day arrival (50 – 70 boats), so I called in help.

I have found an organisation for the elderly that organises knitting clubs all over Holland (Samen breien). There the wise and old people teach their tricks to the young ones. They want to help me, knitting for the refugees for the winter. It would be fantastic to create a television show like The Great British Baking Show. In the Netherlands this show is called: Holland is Baking. Imagine if the whole of Europe sets out to knit again: Europe is knitting. Making caps and shawls is a relaxing pastime, so come on, take up those knitting needles and help.