Knitting in Africa

Jacklien Fernendus

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I have worked in the knitting industry for the past 15 years. When I was a child, my grandma used to knit and enjoy spending time with them on an easy chair in the winter to keep them warm and occupied. Now that I work in the modern knitting & Fashion industry, I see the same fascination in my 4-year-old daughter’s eyes when seeing me working.

Knitting in Africa: A Storytelling Tradition


In Africa, knitting is not just a craft, it’s a cultural tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation. Knitting has been a storytelling tradition in Africa for centuries, and it’s an art form that is woven into the fabric of African culture. This article explores the history of knitting in Africa, the different types of knitting techniques used, and how knitting has become a tool for storytelling in African communities.

The History of Knitting in Africa:

Knitting in Africa has a long history that dates back to ancient times. It’s believed that knitting originated in Egypt over 2000 years ago and spread throughout North Africa. In West Africa, knitting was introduced by the Portuguese during the 15th century, and it quickly became popular among African communities. Today, knitting is practiced in almost every African country, and it’s a vital part of African cultural heritage.

Different Types of Knitting Techniques Used in Africa:

In Africa, there are several different types of knitting techniques used, including Tunisian crochet, slip stitch knitting, intarsia, and fair isle. Tunisian crochet, also known as Afghan crochet, is a type of knitting that uses a long hook to create a fabric that resembles woven fabric. Slip stitch knitting is a technique that creates a tight, dense fabric by slipping stitches instead of knitting them. Intarsia is a knitting technique that creates a design by using different colors of yarn, and fair isle is a technique that creates a design by using two or more colors of yarn in a single row.

Knitting as a Tool for Storytelling:

In African communities, knitting is not just a craft; it’s a tool for storytelling. Knitting has been used for centuries to pass down stories from one generation to another. Many African communities use knitting to tell stories about their culture, history, and traditions. For example, in Zimbabwe, knitting is used to tell stories about the history of the Shona people. The designs in the knitwear depict the life of the people, their environment, and their traditions.

The Significance of Knitting in African Culture:

Knitting has significant cultural importance in Africa. It’s a way for African communities to express their creativity, preserve their cultural heritage, and create economic opportunities. In many African countries, women use knitting as a means of income generation. They knit traditional clothing, accessories, and home decor items that are sold locally and internationally. Knitting has become a source of pride and empowerment for many African women, who are using their skills to create a better future for themselves and their families.

The Future of Knitting in Africa:

Knitting in Africa has a bright future. With the rise of social media and e-commerce platforms, African knitters are gaining more visibility and recognition. There are now several African-owned knitting businesses that are selling their products online and in stores worldwide. Knitting is also being used as a tool for social change in Africa. Several nonprofit organizations are using knitting to empower women and girls, teach them valuable skills, and promote sustainable development.

Knitting in Africa


In conclusion, knitting in Africa is a cultural tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation. It’s an art form that is woven into the fabric of African culture and has significant cultural and economic importance. Knitting has become a tool for storytelling, a means of income generation, and a source of empowerment for many African women. The future of knitting in Africa is bright, and it’s exciting to see how this ancient craft is evolving and adapting to the modern world.


Is knitting only practised by women in Africa?

No, knitting is practised by both men and women in Africa. However, it’s more commonly associated with Womens

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How do African knitters incorporate storytelling into their knitwear designs?

African knitters incorporate storytelling into their knitwear designs by using symbols, colors, and patterns that represent their culture and traditions. For example, a pattern may represent a particular animal or plant that is significant in their community, or it may depict a traditional dance or ceremony.

Are there any specific types of yarn that African knitters use?

African knitters use a variety of yarns, depending on their location and the availability of materials. Some may use locally sourced natural fibers, such as cotton or wool, while others may use imported acrylic or synthetic yarns.

How has technology impacted knitting in Africa?

Technology has made it easier for African knitters to share their work and connect with a wider audience. Social media platforms and e-commerce sites have allowed African knitters to sell their products globally and connect with other knitters around the world.

How can people support African knitters and the knitting industry in Africa?

People can support African knitters and the knitting industry in Africa by purchasing knitwear and other handmade products from African-owned businesses, supporting nonprofit organisations that promote sustainable development through knitting, and spreading awareness about the cultural and economic importance of knitting in Africa.

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