The earliest known knitted items in Europe were made by Muslim knitters employed by Spanish Christian royal families. Their high level of knitting skill can be seen in several items found in the tombs in the Abbey of Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas, a royal monastery, near Burgos, Spain. Among them are the knitted cushion covers and gloves found in the tomb of Prince Fernando de la Cerda, who died in 1275. The silk cushion cover was knit at approximately 20 stitches per inch. It included knit patterns reflecting the family armory, as
well as the word baraka ("blessings") in Arabic in stylized Kufic script. Numerous other knit garments and accessories, also dating from the mid-13th century, have been found in cathedral treasuries in Spain.
At this time, the purl stitch (the opposite action to the knit stitch) was unknown and purely stockinette fabric was produced by knitting in the round on multiple knitting needles. Sometimes the knitting was cut open, a process now known as steeking.
Several paintings from Europe portray the Virgin Mary knitting and date from the 14th century, including Our Lady Knitting by Tommaso da Modena (circa 1325-1375) and Visit of the Angel, from the right wing of the Buxtehude Altar, 1400–10, by Master Bertram of Minden.
Archaeological finds from medieval cities all over Europe, such as London, Newcastle, Oslo, Amsterdam, and Lübeck, as well as tax lists, prove the spread of knitted goods for everyday use from the 14th century onwards. Like many archaeological textiles most of the finds are only fragments of knitted items so that in most cases their former appearance and use is unknown. One of the exceptions is a 14th or 15th century woollen child's cap from Lübeck.
The first known purl stitches appear in the mid-16th century, in the red silk stockings in which Eleanora de Toledo, wife of Cosimo de Medici, was buried, and which also include the first lacy patterns made by yarn-overs,but the technique may have been developed slightly earlier. The English Queen Elizabeth I herself favored silk stockings; these were finer, softer, more decorative and much more expensive than those of wool. Stockings reputed to have belonged to her still exist, demonstrating the high quality of the items specifically knitted for her. During this era the manufacture of stockings was of vast importance to many Britons, who knitted with fine wool and exported their wares. Knitting schools were established as a way of providing an income to the poor. The fashion of the period, requiring men to wear short trunks, made fitted stockings a fashion necessity. Stockings made in England were sent to the Netherlands, Spain, and Germany.
Men were also the first to knit for an occupation.