Knitting is women’s work?

West Side Shop, Uyeasound

West Side Shop, Uyeasound
Photo Source: Shetland Museum

The West Side shop in Uyeasound, Unst, was adjacent to my paternal grand-parents house as I was growing up. When it closed there was, of course, a lot of clearing out to do. A box of knitwear was found in one of the cupboards along with a letter from 1881.

The letter was written by a man named James, who was learning to knit.

I am an invalid & have been so for 5 years. I have a widow mother unfit now for the duties of life & have sisters which is my only support. So I began to think with myself what can I do to make me less bothersome to them & I began as they thought the tedious task for me of knitting & although it was female work I could do nothing else.

This discovery made us curious to find out more about this gent. This fitted in very well with my, then, recently started project to make a complete Unst family tree.

Shetland Knitwear

Shetland Knitwear
Photo Source: Shetland Museum

He wasn’t too hard to find in the census and sure enough he was listed with an occupation of Knitter in 1891. He lives with his sisters Robina and Catherine who are Wool Spinners, spinning Worsted, a smooth, strong, hard wearing yarn.

My sisters has spun the worsted & I have sitten up in bed & knitted it. I was over two months or rather nearer the third before I got it finished.

He clearly stuck at it, after this slow start, and improved, since in 1901 and 1911 he is listed as a Lace Knitter, a more complex and delicate knitting task.

One thing we haven’t managed to find out yet is what his previous occupation was, that resulted in him being invalided five years before the letter was written. In the 1881 census his occupation is listed as “Formerly …” but we can’t work out what it says (see Reading Old Handwriting for more details).

UPDATE: Further research led to me writing An unusual breed – a male knitter.

4 thoughts on “Knitting is women’s work?

  1. I read the link to the “formerly” job position… I then asked some fellow genealogists… we came up with A Conductor Tram/tramway car What do you think?

    • Hi Marianne, I have had that suggestion before, but I am doubtful because of a lack of Tramcars anywhere local to him. Of course, it is possible that he went away from Shetland and then came back once injured/invalided. I hope one day to come across other sources of information that will shed more light in this gent. Imagine the excited blog post I’ll write if I ever comes across more about him!

Morag would love to hear what you think. Leave a comment here.

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