The Yorkshire Dales home knitting industry spanned over 300 years, from the end of the 16th Century to the early 20th Century. Richmond was at the heart of the industry but home knitting soon spread throughout the Dales becoming particularly popular in the remote dales of Swaledale, Dentdale, Garsdale, Wensleydale, and upper Lunesdale and around Kirkby Stephen.
Knitting was often a second stream of income for families and would take place at home in their own cottages. Women, children as young as three or four years and even men would help knit. They would often have to knit in poorly lit rooms with candle light or light from the fire. They would knit in the dark once the candle light had died or under their blankets for warmth once the fire went out. It was a monotonous job, and as such many would knit communally, telling stories and singing songs to relieve the boredom.
The larger towns such as Kirkby and Richmond would send out a carrier regularly to collect the knitted garments. The carrier would also drop off a new batch of wool for the next knitting job. What they knitted varied greatly. Stockings were by far the most important item that was knitted, but they also knitted gloves, under tops, bonnets and hats.
The Terrible Knitters of Dent
The small town of Dent in the Yorkshire Dales became renowned for their knitting and known as the Terrible Knitters of Dent – terrible meaning amazing – they were fast, dedicated and knitted to a very high quality. It was documented my William and Mary Howitt that the terrible knitters of Dent knitted in a particular way…
“They sit rocking to and fro like so many weird wizards…connected with the mode of knitting peculiar to the place called “Swaving” a simple, uniform, tossing motion of both hands at once and the body accompanying it with a sort of sympathetic action…”
A dying trade
Unfortunately this traditional industry faded as the time that went into hand knitted garments was not very profitable and factory production took over.