The Old Hand Knitters Of The Dales by Marie Hartley & Joan Ingilby

Old Hand Knitters

Hand Knitting

Probably the most comprehensive account of the social and economic importance of knitting throughout history can be found in ‘The Old Hand-Knitters Of The Dales’ by Marie Hartley & Joan Ingilby. Not only was knitting a source of much needed income for the poor (especially in rural communities) but also a craft that brought people together. Moving on rotation from house to house in the evening, knitters (both men and women) would sit in the dark (the candles snuffed out to preserve the wax) and exchange gossip and tell stories. Knitting songs, like sea shanties, were sung to pass the time and encourage the knitters to greater speed.
Wordsworth writes in ‘Michael’, (1800):

‘…..while far into the night
The housewife plied her own peculiar work,
Making the cottage through the silent hours
Murmur as with the sound of summer flies.’

The Old Hand Knitters Of The Dales back cover text:

‘For centuries, hand knitting was a way of life for the dalesfolk of Yorkshire and Cumbria. They knitted as they drove the cattle to the fields, as they walked to market, and as they gossiped and sang around the fire on winter evenings. The few pennies they earned from making stockings, jerseys, caps and bonnets were a vital source of extra income.

Today little remains of the industry except the spinning galleries of old Westmorland and the carved wooden knitting sticks found in museums and private collections. But when Marie Hartley and Joan Ingilby set out to research this much neglected aspect of Dales heritage in the late 1940s, it was still possible to watch older residents demonstrate the traditional rhythmic up-and-down ‘swaving’ movements and buy hand-knitted garments in village shops.

From the camaraderie of Robert Southey’s ‘terrible knitters e’ Dent’ to the trials and tribulations of the local mill owners, Yorkshire’s most celebrated historians have stitched together personal recollections, documentary evidence and their in-depth knowledge of the Dales in this new and updated edition of a classic work.

Robert Rutt, in his A History of Hand Knitting, said of this book: ‘It’s influence has been great and good’.’