Knitting belts

Countryman Magazine

In a recent Countryman magazine, a reader asked if anyone could identify an object found in Norfolk.

It was a knitting belt.

knitting belt

My own knitting belt

I have always wondered how widespread the use of the knitting belt was.

Prior to the commercially produced knitting belt, a straw version, a wisp, was used by tucking it into the waistband, and knitting needles could then be stuck into the end.

wisp - early knitting belt

A straw wisp – an early version of the knitting belt

These and wooden versions were used in many areas of the UK.

Apparently, it is thought that although other devices were once used to support the right needle in the UK and elsewhere, the knitting belt is perhaps unique to Shetland, where they are called “makkin belts”.

However, they were possibly also used in the north east of Scotland. I know I have seen one in a museum in Nairn, near Inverness.


Knitters in Shetland wore their belts everywhere, walking home with a “kishie” full of peat, gathered with other knitters around the fire, the belt would still be in use because there was still knitting to be done.

Two women carrying kishies

Two women carrying kishies.
Photo Source: Shetland Museum

The “makkin belt” consisted of a leather pad stuffed with horsehair and attached to a belt. The technique requires the use of double point needles.

Shetlanders still use them.

So, how did a knitting belt  come to be found in Norfolk?

I wonder if  gutter girls from Shetland, who followed the herring all down the Scottish coast and as far as Great Yarmouth, gutting the herring, (taking their knitting with them to work on when off duty) introduced the knitting belt to others as they traveled.

Gutter Lasses

Gutter lasses knitting in front of barrels.
Photo Source: Shetland Museum

If anyone has any information about knitting belts used elsewhere, I would love to know!

7 thoughts on “Knitting belts

  1. The Herring girls used to knit garments as they walked to the gutting in the morning, work all day and then knit all the way home.

  2. I am from Norfolk. Knitting was quite an occupation in Norfolk in the past as it was in Shetland, with women knitting as they walked. Stockings were sold/ exported from Gt Yarmouth and many thousands were knit.
    Celia Fiennes in a walking tour commented on women knitting on the ‘old’ A11 route between in the Attleborough – Wymondham area. I believe the date of her tour was about 1695.

    • I think Norfolk and Shetland have quite a lot in common. This certainly seemed quite apparent when my 1st cousin married a Norfolk man and the two sides of the family got together for their wedding.

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