Making Nets, Knitting Fabric

A brief meditation on making nets and knitting fabric, two innovations that have had a tremendous long-term impact on human civilization.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
September/October 1973
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Humans have found a staggering range of uses for nets, from food gathering to recreation.  

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knit (nit) vt [ME. knitten... akin to G. knütten, to tie (fishing) nets ...]
Webster's New World Dictionary, Second College Edition 

Hearty thanks are due the prehistoric genius who first knotted together tough roots or lengths of vine and made a crafty web with which to share his dinner. In fact, it's pleasant to speculate that nature's master netmaker, the spider, inspired the first human attempt at making nets. We'll never know for sure ... but we do know that the early inventor's brainchild has served hundreds of purposes in almost every culture since the Stone Age.

Simple as it looks, the net is really an amazing conception. How can a fabric that's more empty space than anything else be strong enough to hold a ton of thrashing cod? Yet it does just that ... while a device made on exactly the same principle is still delicate enough to catch a butterfly unharmed.

A net is also a remarkable combination of firmness and flexibility. The fixed points created by the knots control the maximum size of the outstretched openings, yet allow the web to shift readily to take the stress of its load and—when not in use—to collapse into a lightweight bundle for easy storage and transport.

With nets all around us—as hammocks, sporting gear, shopping bags, storage space and restraints for our wandering hair—it's surprising that more of us haven't discovered the utilitarian craft of netting ... along with its decorative and satisfying cousin, knitting.

Knitting, like netting, is basically "holes tied together with string" ... only the loops aren't actually tied but just slipped one through another to form a mesh. The result is an elastic fabric that's perfect for close-fitting items like stockings. (Hand-knit footwear was made in Egypt very early in the present era, and the hosiery industry has been mechanized since the invention of the first knitting machine by an Elizabethan parson.)

Because no knots are required, knitting fabric goes comparatively fast even when done by hand... an important consideration, as you'll realize if you try to count the individual stitches in your sweater. The technique does, however, have a serious drawback, especially for the beginner: A knitted textile is a chain that's only as strong as its weakest link. The straight needles are not only tools but temporary storage units for the last row of completed loops ... and if one of those little rings of wool happens to slip off by accident, the "dropped stitch" will soon liberate all its companions in a vertical line running the whole length of the work. For the same reason, even the smallest holes and tears in a finished garment are disastrous if not mended promptly.

Dropped stitches notwithstanding, knitting is the most efficient way yet devised to turn fiber into cloth without the weaver's cumbersome gear. In fact, a great blessing of this useful craft is its convenience: Any odd moments serve to add a few rows to your sock, and you can work wherever there's enough elbow room that you won't poke your neighbor with the needles. You can also talk, listen to music or—if you're really skillful—even read at the same time (though many experts in the art find the rhythmic motions soothing in their own right and prefer just to muse while their fingers fly).

Once you're long past struggling through your first afghan squares and can regularly create handsome, useful articles for gifts or family wear, you may want to consider knitting as a possible source of extra money.

Whether you knit or net—for recreation, use or profit—you can spend the coming long cold evenings very pleasantly with nothing more expensive than a ball of twine or yarn and a needle or two ... secure in the satisfaction that you belong to an ancient line of craftspeople who have sat by their fires in caves and cottages over the centuries, intent on exactly the same tasks.

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