Read this fascinating article by Jasvinder Kaur in The Tribune on the history of knitting in Punjab.
It is hard to believe that knitting, a favourite pastime of women in the subcontinent during winter, came to India only during the British Raj. Christian missionaries helped in spreading this skill as girls were taught knitting in schools. Gradually, it became popular among women and replaced spinning as more people starting wearing hand-knitted sweaters and socks.
In the 19th century, people in Punjab were not in the habit of wearing sweaters, even when it was really cold in the winter. The wealthy preferred Pashmina shawls and the poor used woollen lois — for wrapping around oneself, as well as for bedding. Baden Powell (in 1872) writes, ‘It is a remarkable fact that in the plains during the cold weather natives do not like woollen goods, it is only the poorer class that resorts to kambal or blanket. Everyone who could afford it, much prefers wearing several thicknesses of cotton cloth and coats padded with cotton wool are universally worn.’
Sir George Watt and Percy Brown also expressed similar thoughts in 1904 that, in general, cotton, rather than wool, was preferred throughout India. This has also been corroborated by other writers and gazetteers of the period. Hand-spun khaddar was thicker and warmer than mill-made cotton and women used it to stitch their suits. Men often used a khes as a wrap instead of a warm chaddar. This practice was common in Punjab even in the 1990s and might still be prevalent at certain places by the older generation.