Knitting belts

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!

Advertisements

Finishing a knitted garment

The last two days have been busy with two cruise ships coming to the island and visiting the Unst Heritage Centre.

Cruise ship

Ocean Nova Cruise ship at the Baltasound Pier

When visitors come and I chat to them, I never know what their interests will be.

This time, one group was interested in some of the displays about finishing and dressing; stretching knitted garments into shape.

Nana's mum Betsy with shawl

Morag’s great-grandmother Betsy with shawl being stretched

Large boards for dressing shawls would be put outside to dry, especially since the houses were small and room was limited.

One old lady told me of a incident when a shawl was put out to dry and then “da grice gaed trow da middle an dat wis a winter’s wark geen”

(The pig went through the middle of the shawl, and that was a whole winter’s worth of knitting gone!)

Wood shaped for stretching socks, gloves, jumpers etc was used for the various garments. Since wood was a scarce commodity in Unst, any source of wood would be gratefully recycled into the shapes needed.

I still have a jumper board and use it to keep our woolen jumpers in good shape.

Adjustable jumper board

My adjustable jumper board – still in regular use!

I am currently knitting hats, so I need a plate of the correct diameter for stretching those!

Some visitors were interested in the knitting belt that we still use here in Shetland. It fits around the waist and helps the knitter steady their knitting and keep the tension even.

Knitting Belt

My knitting belt

I have always wondered how widespread the use of the knitting belt was. I would be interested to know if anyone has researched this subject.

Peerie Knitters Visit

Recently the young knitters from the island of Whalsay came on a visit to Unst to meet our peerie knitters.

Map of Shetland

Map of Shetland showing the island of Whalsay in the East, and Unst in the North

They were accompanied by adults who help and teach in the two groups.

People in Unst Heritage Centre

Some of the ladies from Whalsay who came to help.

The day was arranged in such a way that the children moved round in small groups with children from both islands in the each group.

Activities included spinning, dying wool, finger knitting, crochet, knitting.

Members of Unst spinners and knitters group were there to help the groups.

Peerie Knitter dying wool

Having an opportunity to dye wool proved popular.

The children could also see the fine lace knitting on display in the Heritage Centre.

They especially seemed to enjoy the school section of the Heritage Centre displays!

Children using the Unst Heritage Centre school displays

Trying out schooling, the old fashioned way

Lunch was supplied from the nearby tearooms and enjoyed by all.

Group photo of all the Peerie Knitters

The whole company.

Thanks to everyone who made it an enjoyable day.

Authenticity in Culturally-based Knitting

On Saturday 5th March 2016, Shetland Museum and Archives hosted a study day on the topic of Authenticity in Culturally-based Knitting.

Rhoda Speaking

Rhoda Speaking

One of the speakers on the day was our very own Rhoda Hughson (my mum). In her presentation she talks about the box of knitwear found in the Uyeasound shop (which is what kicked off my research on James Moar) and how they got replicas made to display in the Unst Heritage Center.

James is getting quite some air time, with both mum and me giving presentations that include him, in the space of a few days!

She also talks about the traditions of knitting, and passing down the skills to the next generation, and mentions the Unst Peerie Knitters that she wrote about on this blog. Watch her whole presentation in the video below – she is the first of three speakers in that video.


 
She’s mentioned in a couple of tweets on the day too.


 

You can read more about this event at:-

Presentation at Genealogy Group

I joined a local genealogy group, and today I gave a small presentation about James Moar, the man who turned to knitting when he do no other task to support himself. I’ve written about him in a number of blog posts before.

I created the presentation from the material I had in the above blog posts, using some of the photographs as illustrations as I talked. I also used old maps to show where they lived, and showed the various census records and birth and death records that I had discovered when researching James’ life. I also talked about getting his Death record updated so that he was finally recorded correctly, which seemed to be met with great approval.

Aberdeen Show Newspaper Cutting

Aberdeen Show Newspaper Cutting, from Dundee Courier, Wednesday, July 25th 1894

I had one new piece of information in the presentation that is not in any of the previous blog posts. As you’ll know if you’ve read the others, James turned to knitting when he was invalided, and while he had a slow start, he did clearly get better. In the 1901 and 1911 census he is listed as a Shetland Lace Knitter, which shows a certain skill as that is a complex and delicate knitting style. Well he, must have been quite good because he won first prize in the Aberdeen Highland show (held on Tuesday, July 24th 1894) for a Fine White Shetland Shawl, beating another lady from the same village, Uyeasound, into second place.

I brought along my copy of the Unst Heritage Lace book for the group members to look at as well, since James is also mentioned in there.

I think the presentation was well received, and I hope to maybe do another subject at a future meeting.

Correction – James Thomas Irvine Moar

I’ve written a number of blog posts about James Thomas Irvine Moar, the invalided man who taught himself to knit.

Register House, Edinburgh

Register House in Edinburgh

The last post ended with me sending off the details to the Correction of Errors Section at New Register House in Edinburgh to get his Death record updated to include his parents. My evidence included the above blog posts where I’d gathered everything I knew about him.

They replied fairly quickly to let me know that the correction had been accepted, but that it would be a number of months before the amendment would appear in ScotlandsPeople for everyone to see.

Before we can correct an entry in the Registers, we must establish that an error has been made & therefore ask to see some form of documentary evidence.

Before we can correct/insert a person’s parentage on a death entry we would require to see their statutory birth entry.

As we have James Moar’s statutory birth entry I can add the parents’ particulars no problem & also insert James Moar’s middle names (Thomas Irvine).

RCE Marker

RCE Marker on James Moar’s Death Record

This week I was back in Edinburgh at the ScotlandsPeople Centre where you can view all the records (and purchase and download any that you wish to keep a copy of), so I looked up the Death record that I had previously found. And there it was, the marker to note that a correction to this record exists in the Register for Corrected Entries (RCE). The system I was using to view the record in the ScotlandsPeople Centre also provides a link to the RCE, so I clicked on it and there were my corrections.

REGISTER OF CORRECTIONS ETC. R.C.E. 118/2014/13
Registration District of Shetland Islands
Register of Deaths District of Lerwick ( 5/1 ) Year 1919 Entry No. 132
James Moar – Correction of name in column 1
Insertion of parents’ particulars in column 5
Annotation of the entry
Annotate the margin of the above-noted entry as follows:- R.C.E. 118/2014/13

Issue of extracts, special-purpose certificates and, where applicable, abbreviated certificates of the entry
In column 1 for James Moar substitute James Thomas Irvine Moar
In column 5 for parents’ particulars insert John Moar Fisherman (Deceased) Margaret Moar M.S. Robertson (Deceased)

It was great to see James now properly recorded for posterity, only 100 years late!

Unst peerie knitters

The Peerie Knitters group at the Baltasound School in Unst is an after school club that has been meeting for the past 15 years or so.

Peerie Knitters Group

Unst Peerie Knitters at work. Running for the past 15 years.

Unst’s knitting history

Knitting in Unst in the past was an economic necessity. Many women were living on a croft, which was seldom large enough to provide a living for a family. Out of necessity too, most of the men were crofter/fishermen, leaving the womenfolk to tend the croft and knit in every spare moment to support the family, for the fishing too could be very uncertain, especially with the Truck system in operation.

Mothers and Grannies have always taught their bairns to knit, as they too could contribute to the family as well as helping with croft work.

Until recently there were knitting teachers in Shetland Schools, till the Education Authority in their wisdom decided to cut this vital service.

Peerie Knitters Out and About

Over the years the Peerie Knitters has taken part in a variety of activities.

One year a group was invited to the Royal Highland Show and demonstrated knitting to other young folk.

Peerie Knitters stand at Royal Highland Show

Our stand at the Royal Highland Show.

Peerie Knitters Demonstrating

Showing others how to knit.

Peerie Knitters with Edinburgh Castle in the background

Enjoying the visit to Edinburgh.

Unst Heritage Centre fashion show and book launch

A Stitch In Time Book Cover

“A Stitch in Time”, a book about Unst Lace knitting created by the Unst Heritage Centre, was published and launched at the Fashion Show event.

The children made jumpers and took part in the knitwear fashion show “One hundred years of Unst knitting”.

Unst Knitware on the Catwalk

On the catwalk.

Fine Lace Bridal Shawl

Fine lace shawl for a bride.

It is interesting to see that, when the local Care Centre has a Knit and Chat evening, the range of ages of knitters attending ranges from a lady of over 100 years to a child of 7 years of age!

Maima Jean

Maima Jean, a lovely lady of over 100 years of age.

It is to be hoped that the special knitting skills for Unst’s fine lace live on in the next generation now learning to knit.