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.

| September/October 1973

netting and knitting - net - fotolia

Humans have found a staggering range of uses for nets, from food gathering to recreation.  


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.)

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