Zaib R Mir
The history of knitting is believed to be thousands of years old. It is very difficult to exactly pinpoint the origin of knitting. The main reason is the fragility of the knitted items. The oldest knitted item is a pair of socks, which is believed to be knitted between 3rd and 5th centuries in Egypt. This beautiful pair of red socks is kept in Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Most historians believe that knitting was originated in middle east and from there it spread to other parts of the world.
The women of Gilgit Baltistan have a high level of knitting skills. They knit sweaters, socks, gloves and other items. Woollen garments are essential to face the cold weather of the region. In past this mountainous region had limited access to the outside world. People had to rely on their local hand made products for their day-to-day needs. Hand knitting by local women was the only way to fulfill their needs to face harsh winters. Women have always played very important role to make the warm cloths for all family members. Once the male members obtain wool by shearing the sheep, women card the wool and spin the thread. Winter dresses are knitted with this homemade woollen yarn. During winter temperatures are below zero the days are short and there are no activities related to agriculture. This is the best time to spin the thread from the fine local wool and prepare it for knitting. Traditionally family member gather around the stove and spend family time after dinner. Ladies prepare beautiful knitted items while spending quality time with family.
With easy availability of machine made sweaters , socks gloves and other items there is a huge fall in the number of hand knitted items and these garments have become really valuable. Despite the easy availability and huge increase of machine made garments the woman of Gilgit Baltistan have kept the art of hand knitting alive. A hand knit garment is of high value and sign of pride of the local cultural heritage. The skilled knitters are people of high value as they have kept these centuries old tradition alive without gaining any economic interest.
Crochet is another form of handicraft in which patterned fabric is made by looping yarn. A single needle with a hook on one end is used for drawing the thread or yarn through intertwined loops. The women of Gilgit Baltistan are highly skilled in the art of crochet.
Hand knitted Socks
Beautiful hand knitted socks is made from 100 % local woollen yarn. Two or more needles are used to loop the yarn and transform it into beautiful socks.
Socks knitted from local woolen yarn are soft, comfortable and warm for harsh winter. Different local geomateric designs are made on socks, Shahi jurab or royal socks are of unique design . they are usually made as a part of groom or bridal dress.
Knitted woolen gloves
Different designs of gloves are knitted for different purposes. The working gloves are made from tough dark color yarn. The gloves for the occasion of wedding are knitted with delicate colorful yarn. Bright colors are used to design various floral and other designs on these special gloves.
Traditionally the local woolen yarn is used to knit sweaters. In the modern time different varieties of machine made yarn are easily available in the market. But handmade sweater from original woolen yarn have higher value. Normally two needles are used to knit a sweater. Using different pattern of knitting and various colors of yarn various designs of sweeter are made. They are knit from top down or from bottom up. It is a sign of love, respect and pride to knit a sweater for a family member or loved ones. Knitted items are important part of bridal gifts.
Waistband ( Shiman, Ghaski or permeyoung)
Waistband is an essential part of the traditional dress. Traditionally waistbands were made by hand with strong local yarn. Colorful waistbands are made as part of wedding dresses. Sometimes colorful beads are place at the ends of the waistbands.
Crochet is an amazing art and skill. Various amazing items are made with these skills. Women of Gilgit Baltistan are naturally gifted with this skill. They make beautiful crochet bed sheets, pillow covers, sofa covers, jackets and headbands. Both natural and synthetic yarn is used to crochet various items.
In summary the women of Gilgit Baltistan are highly skilled. The have kept this cultural heritage alive for hundreds of years. With modernization and easy availability of machine garments the art of knitting and crochet is slowly disappearing. It is very important for the government and non-governmental organizations to come forward and transform it to micro industry and save the cultural heritage.
Zaib R Mir is a needle and thread artist and artisan from Gilgit Baltistan, She works to promote and preserve the cultural heritage of Gilgit Baltistan for more details please visit Facebook page zaib’s arts and crafts.