“When daylight is flitting we take up our knitting”
It is hard to think of winter evenings during the mini heat wave we have had in England this week, but after a hard day spent working in the garden or an evening of endless watering of hanging baskets and lawns, the thought of snuggling down with my needles in front of the woodburner is very tempting.
Time with my needles (whichever type) is very precious “ME” time, a treat to myself, a pleasure that keeps me sane. However, for women in times past it was a necessity to provide the household with clothing, linen and other essentials.
In many families all the members knitted hats, socks and jumpers and every spare moment was used. Some households supplemented their income by making items for sale as well.
Working class women had to walk everywhere and they used this time to knit. A knitting sheath made knitting quicker and enabled people to knit on the move.
A knitting sheath was a holder into which one end of a needle was placed and then the sheath was tucked into a belt worn around the waist, a waistband or held under the arm.
Some of the knitting sheaths have a diagonal slot in them where apron strings or ribbons could hold them in place. The needle is held in position by the knitting sheath allowing one hand to be freed up.
The sheath took the weight of the work and prevented the stitches from slipping off the botttom of a double-ended needle.
‘Goose-wing’ or ‘Gulls-wing’ knitting sticks were shaped to be tucked easily into a skirt or apron top.
Knitting sheaths are rarely seen nowadays and make a fascinating field for collectors. Their charm is not only in the craftsmanship but in the story they tell. The design often enables their origin to be traced to a closely defined region.
Use of knitting sheaths declined during the 19th century as industrial machine knitting increased. However, in some areas of the UK, like Yorkshire and Shetland, commercial hand-knitting continued, using traditional sheaths and belts.
The knitting belt seems to have belonged mostly to northern England and Scotland.
A knitting belt had a pouch attached that was stuffed with horsehair and covered with holes where the needle was slotted in. In the Shetland Islands it was called a makkin (making) or maakin belt.
Antique knitting sheaths were made from many materials: wood, metal, straw, ivory and fabric and in a variety of forms. Wooden knitting sticks at their simplest were just hollowed out sticks but many were handcrafted and personalised, made by men as love tokens with verses, hearts and dates on or by fathers for their daughters. Some were made by young men as love gifts, and have carved initials, mottoes, or dates.
Could you imagine standing in the queue at the supermarket knitting or maybe even walking your dog? Now there’s a thought for the next time your hands are idle !
Lost to backdrops scrolling past,
She sits knitting
in the carriage of a train.
The vague needles
They scintillate and glimpse
With the cadence of the wheels –
Strips of tiny loops
And eyelets like dewdrops
Grouped on the superior rim.
Once in a while,
She gives a heave
To loosen more yarn from the skein
Of Filipino-made wool,
brushed worsted weave.
Spun and carded
from the richest fleece,
Deeper in the wicker basket by her feet.
The needles flash,
With ancient rhythms and attack
Of duellists in their chainmail coats.
With little hesitation she can tack
From plain to purl to blackberry.
Count back by rote or slip a stitch
While the fish-eyed gimlets gleam.
All gather profusely in her lap,
As windfall trove, rich-patterned
And warm with peach-fuzz nap,
All crafted from a single line of yarn.
Marvels fall continuously from wise
Spell-binding hands and all is well for now.
– Sy Lilang
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