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The V-bed machine In 1590, a school was set up in York to teach the children of the poor to knit and thereby provide for them some means of earning a meagre living. Because there was a choice of so many trades in York, the project did not succeed and was moved out to the Richmond area of the Dales. Handknitting as a money earner could only be done successfully in remote areas where there was no competition with easier ways of earning a living. Even today in the Shetland Islands there are very few handknitters who can knit profitably . Nearly all the commercial knitters there use domestic knitting machines. During the 19th century, Victorian V-bed and circular machines were used in the Dales to produce larger items like jacket and waistcoat pieces which the Dales handknitters refused to knit by hand. Today, domestic machine knitting as a leisure craft activity still maintains a presence by means of the machine knitting clubs and classes which flourish in both urban and rural areas of North Yorkshire.

Throughout the 17th century, handknitting spread rapidly throughout the length and breadth of the Yorkshire Dales, but during the 18th century when the western Dales began to be more accessible because of the new turnpike road between Keighley and Kendal, the activity withdrew from the Settle - upper Ribblesdale areas and became confined to the more remote Dales; Dentdale, Swaledale, Garsdale, Wensleydale, upper Lunesdale around Sedbergh and the Eden valley around Kirkby Stephen. In fact, the main square in Kirkby Stephen is called Stocking Square from the days when the town was a centre of the stocking trade. The carriers, who operated from towns like Kirkby, Richmond and Kendal, would go round prescribed areas of the Dales, collect the knitted stockings from the cottagers and deliver a new lot of wool (known as "bump") for the next assignment of knitted stockings. All the family knitted - men, women and children. When the light burnt itself out, they would knit in the dark or go to bed and knit under the blankets. Knitting was done communally and often,
they sang songs to relieve the monotony.



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(text, © Kathleen Kinder 1997. photos, © Kathleen Kinder/Bill Mitchell 1997 k.kinder@daelnet.co.uk)

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