Knitting Blog

The Surprising History of Portuguese Knitting

For many of us, the two styles of knitting we’re most familiar with are English and Continental. In America, you’ll find knitters of both those styles. But there’s another style of knitting that’s still popular and even dominant today in many countries, including Portugal, Egypt and Peru: Portuguese knitting.

Portuguese Knitting Style

How did Portuguese knitting come to be?

The origins of this style of knitting are a bit incomplete since we don’t have a record of knitting’s entire history. (I know. If only!) But there are a couple of things we do know about it that work hand-in-hand with world history. Let’s take a look at how Portuguese knitting probably originated and spread, plus how it has changed over hundreds of years.

It’s not where you think it’s from…

Portuguese knitting is named for Portugal, but that isn’t actually the country where the style originated.

According to Craftsy instructor Andrea Wong, the style originated somewhere in the Middle East โ€” the exact location is unknown โ€” and then reached Portugal. The specific route of Portuguese knitting from the Middle East to Portugal is a mystery, but Andrea says it’s possible that this style made its way through North Africa or through central Europe.

How the style spread

Here’s what we do know: Europeans brought their knitting style to the Americas about 500 years ago. Once the Europeans picked up the Portuguese knitting style, they were ready to share it with everyone they encountered.

In fact, Portuguese knitting is still common in some South American countries today:

  • If you visit knitters in Peru, for instance, you’ll probably see them using the Portuguese knitting style.
  • Portuguese knitting is also quite popular in Brazil, since Brazil was colonized by the Portuguese in the 1500s.
  • Other countries in both South America and Europe still use Portuguese as their main style, including Peru, Greece, Egypt, Bulgaria, and of course Portugal.

If you ever visit any of these countries, be sure to look for this unique knitting style being used!

Andrea Wong Demonstrates Portuguese Knitting

But if it’s not really from Portugal, why is it called Portuguese knitting?

We can thank our own Craftsy instructor Andrea Wong for actually naming the Portuguese style! While the style has been around for a long time, there was never really a name for it. Andrea learned this technique as a kid, and when she started teaching it she had to give it a proper name โ€” and so she coined it Portuguese knitting.

Since its origin, Portuguese knitting has evolved, especially when it comes to needles.

Portuguese knitting needles

When Portuguese knitting originated, “regular” knitting needles weren’t the norm. Knitters used needles that look similar to a Tunisian crochet hook: They have a knitting needle tip on one end and a crochet hook on the other. (See the photo above for an example.) The needles were made of either bone or wood, and the technique works a bit like double-pointed needles.

These days, you can learn (from Andrea Wong herself) the Portuguese knitting style using regular knitting needles, the same ones you’d use for English or Continental knitting.

Want to give it a try?

Master the basics in Andrea’s introductory class here.

Do you knit in the Portuguese style?

Learn advanced techniques (think: colorwork like crazy!) in Andrea’s NEW class.

4 Comments

Pauline

I don’t understand why the Portuguese knitting style should be so misnamed. If something did not originate in Europe, why should it have a name that makes people think it did?
If this knitting style probably originated in the Middle East or North Africa, and is still popular today in Egypt, isn’t it more reasonable to call it Egyptian Knitting? Egypt is in North Africa, but is culturally Middle Eastern.
And speaking of Egypt, why does your article indicate that Egypt is in Europe or South America?
“Other countries in both South America and Europe still use Portuguese as their main style, including Peru, Greece, Egypt, Bulgaria, and of course Portugal.”
I am a big fan of Craftsy, but I think an opportunity was missed here. Craftsy and Ms. Wong had an opportunity to correct a wrong.

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Helen (of troy)

So much of the history of knitting is based on guess work. Some facts:
1–Knitting seems to have originated in Egypt (or perhaps the Sudan)
2–Muslims had a policy of evaluating all new technologies, and, if deemed worthy, spreading the technology. This is well know in Mathematics (the arab numbers we “KNOW” where not invented by them(arabs) , but KNOWLEDGE of these was spread by them(they originated in India) . Knitting too, it seems, was another technology spread by them..

3–Knitting spread to Europe vie 3 major paths:
3A–to Spain and Portugal vie the “moorish” influence
3B-North to Scandinavia (up the Volga river) a trade route.
3C–to central europe via the Crusades.

As knitting traveled, it changed. Now days, most knitting experts agree there are 2 major styles–EASTERN (the original style) and WESTERN. While both produce identical fabric (so you can’t tell by just looking at the knitting) they use different processes. A third style is Combination knitting, a style that combines both eastern & western styles !

Western is further sub-divided into right hand yarn hold (commonly called English) and left hand yard hold (commonly called Continental)

In Eastern knitting, the purl stitch is the most common stitch. In Western knitting, the knit stitch is the most common. Of course–the knit and purl are the same stitch–Just different sides (think of a penny–one side is heads. one side is tails.) Same with knitting: One stitch, one side looks like a purl, one side looks like a knit–but really, there is just one stitch

The subject of knitting is facinating.. but not many facts about knitting are known..

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Mira

I agree with Pauline. Ms. Wong should double check her facts, and geography for that matter. The so called Portuguese knitting style has been used by every grandma in Eastern Europe and Russia for hundreds of years and it is still used today. My grandma taught me to knit this way long time before internet existed. She never left her village, nor her grandma or her grandma’s grandma. I know that for Americans it sounds very exotic and saleable but let’s not trade facts for bucks.

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LLB

So what would you have called it, then? Remember, we already have “Eastern knitting”.

Reply

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