European Background


Ladakhi knitting has an European origin

Suprisingly enough, Ladakh knitting patterns probably aren’t really Indian at all. At least not like Andean chullo’s are part of a very ancient tradition. European missionaries probably brought knitting to the Himalaya’s, when they settled down there to bring Christianity to the Buddhist people.

For their evangelistic activities the missinairies started schools. You have to be able to read, before you can learn the bible, of course... For girls knitting schools were raised, to empower them to earn their own livelyhood. (They weren't only taught how to knit and weave, but also how to read and write.)

Two very well known misionairies were Wilhelm (1825 – 1907) and Maria Heyde. They were Hernhutters (Moravian Church) from Germany. Wilhelm arrived in the Himalaya's in 1854. Maria followed later, to marry him (without ever having met him before). Maria started a knitting school and taught the Ladakhi girls and women German (continental) style knitting and how to knit socks and gloves.

You can read a bit about it in the book ‘Among the Tibetans’ by Isabella Bird, a Victorian woman traveling.  In Chapter 5 she writes: Mrs. Heyde has a school of forty girls, mostly Buddhists. The teaching is simple and practical, and includes the knitting of socks, of which from four to five hundred pairs are turned out each winter, and find a ready sale.”

Another missionary was F.A. Redslob (also mentioned in Isabella Birds book), whose wife Adelheit Schubert had a knitting school at Keylang. She taught the local women to make woollen socks in the German style. Another knitting school was St. Rita’s knitting school, led by Swiss missionairies.

Today, the people of the Himalaya still are knitting. On the local markets, especially in Ley, they still sell socks of the type their (great)grandparents learned at the knitting schools.  They are knitted in German ("Saxon") style and stitch pattern and have a heel.  It’s the special heel is what makes them differ from socks that are offered by Muslim handlers from Kashmir. The knitters seem to have forgotten their German off spring as the are offered as authentic Himalayan socks. The even have become part of the traditional Lahouli costume.  (Source)

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