Pragya Sharma profile

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Pragya Sharma

University of Brighton (2023)


Dr Megha Rajguru


Cultures of Hand-knitting in North India: Provenance, Domesticity and Gendered Learning, c.1850-1980


As an everyday domestic practice in India, hand-knitting from the subcontinent has remained little studied within the existing scholarship which is predominantly Euro-centric (Black, 2012; Compton, 2010; Gillow & Sentance, 1999; Nargi, 2011) with the exception of Rutt (1987) who argues that knitting was never an important craft to Indians. This project challenges Rutt’s assertion by tracing the introduction and evolution of the craft in colonial and post-colonial India, situating it within the wider socio-cultural entanglements.

The present-day positioning of knitting in India is closely intertwined with the British Empire and the subsequent establishment of mission education (Allender, 2016). Although hand-knitting was learned and practised by all genders (MacMillan, 2018), the intergenerational skill was (and is) generally acquired through informal channels of learning, within the domestic spaces. For a socially constructed practice defined as a hallmark of an ideal housewife (Walsh, 2004) and with the recent resurgence of knitting as a hobby or as independent businesses (Kedkar, 2022), there is no record of historic styles or patterns from India due to the skill's negligible representation in public spaces, unlike the West where samplers have been preserved.

Adopting an interdisciplinary methodology that combines archival study and oral history methods, underpinned by the themes of material culture, domesticity and colonial history, the research interrogates the place and significance of knitting in North India from 1850 to 1980. This was a critical period which saw an increasing influence and adaptation of Western practices with the simultaneous positioning of post-colonial India as a crafts nation that drew emphasis on the traditional/folk crafts (McGowan, 2009) with the exclusion of the domestic crafts. After 1980, with the opening of India’s economy and the liberalization wave of 1991, the knitting landscape was influenced by a global appeal and continues to the present day.