Craft History: Netmaking


Netknitting, or netmaking, has been around since colonists settled along the coast. Before people could buy twine, women had to spin their own twine from cotton grown on nearby farms. Women also knitted most of the nets, while the men fished all day for the family's dinner; however several fishermen also knitted their own nets.

Whether the netmaker made his or her own twine or bought it in skeins, as people could do in the latter part of the 19th century, netknitters would fill their needles with twine and space the holes with a "knot gauge," a tool which could measure the size of the spaces. Netmakers used an over-under stitch pattern and would measure the length of the net based on the kind of fish they wanted to catch. A spot net (used for catching spot) was about a 100 yards, usually requiring about a week's worth of work. Roe mullet nets were about 400 yards, requiring a slightly more tightly woven net than for spot. Pound nets, which stayed in the water, required a different technique.

Because the cotton twine would rot if left in its natural state, and because of the time involved in making nets, fishermen coated the twine with lime or tar. Spot and mullet nets, also called gill nets, were coated in lime. Pound nets, which stayed in the water for extended periods of time, were soaked in tar. Fishermen usually tarred the net in the winter, spread it out to dry for two or three days, and then brought the net to the water for the rest of the year.

Of course nets would not float by themselves, so fishermen had to make buoy devices to string on the ends of the net. These little buoys were corks, which the fisherman would make with the bark of a gum tree root, which the fishermen would chop off the tree, shape and let dry before attaching them to the net.

Cecelski, David. "Wesley Goodwin: Knitting and Hanging Net." The News and Observer, 12 Aug. 2001, 10D.