Weardale Knitting StickKnitting Stick from Weardale Museum dated 1883<empty> Source: Weardale Museum Collection
Copyright: Weardale Museum

Knitting stickLine drawing from The Monthly Chronicle of North<empty> Country Lore and Legend 1890
Source: Weardale Museum Collection
Copyright: Weardale Museum

William Morley Egglestone
William Morley Egglestone<empty>
Source: The Bonny Moor Hen Vol 4 The Journal
of the Weardale Field Study Society
Copyright: Ian Forbes

Eastgate Roman Altar
Original Location: Weardale
Current Location: The Weardale Museum
Theme: Cultural/Social
Period: Post-medieval
Date: c.1883

What is it?
A Weardale Knitting Stick. When knitting with three or four needles a knitting stick fastened to a waist belt held one of them steady enabling both hands to work the other needles. This made it possible to knit faster, easier, while standing up and on the move. This Weardale knit stick is 20cm long with beautiful incised and carved decoration including initials J.R. and the date Jan 1883. At one end is the carved shape of a heart and the other end has been reinforced with a brass cage to provide a secure and durable holder for the knitter’s needles.

What is its relevance to the North Pennines?
Its relevance to the North Pennines is readily illustrated by this quote from an article in The Monthly Chronicle of North Country Lore and Legend by William Morley Egglestone, Stanhope Feb 1890:

‘There must be admitted into our North- Country lore and legend the old knitting stick, or sheath, around which has been woven many a tale of love in the dales of the North of England. It has been for centuries, no doubt, a common practice in these dales for young men to shape and ornament, with their pocket knives, knitting sticks intended for presents to their sweethearts or female friends; hence it was a labour of love, and occupied untold numbers of leisure hours. To make the stick as beautiful as possible, so that it would please the receiver, was the aim of the plodding and painstaking carver, who followed no special pattern, but by practised hands cut out ornamentations strikingly like those found on bows, quivers, spears, knives, axes, clubs, and other implements, and the handiwork of the natives of foreign countries. The accompanying sketch of a Weardale knitting stick represents a good specimen which I picked up some years ago. The four sides are all ornamented. On one there is a fish, on another a heart and shield, and the letters R.L., undoubtedly the initials of the giver or receiver, occupy the side opposite to that shown in the illustration [line drawing].’

Why is it important?
The craft of making sticks, sheaths, belts and other devices for holding knitting was not exclusive to the North Pennines and was familiar in other European countries, in North America and throughout the British Isles. In the Yorkshire Dales professional wood workers sometimes made sticks for contract knitters but in the North Pennines in the 18th and 19th centuries it was more common for them to be individual, personalised, well-crafted items made by young men as love tokens and handed down through the family. Unlike the Welsh love spoon which continued as part of the folk tradition long after it lost its practical use functional the tradition of making knitting sticks has not survived the invention of knitting machines and few people now recognise either its practical or its decorative function. Local examples of knitting sticks can be seen at The Weardale Museum, Ireshopeburn and Beamish Museum.

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