Knitting The Old Dales Way: Workshops

ohkdKnitting the Old Dales Way. How To Use a Knitting Stick or Shetland Knitting Belt: workshop

A rare chance to learn this brilliant, simple but obscure method of knitting. Let’s keep this old Yorkshire craft alive! For its opening weekend, the Yorkshire Museum of Farming is holding a Country Crafts event, and I’ll be doing talks (more of that down the week) and two workshops, one on each day.

This workshop will show you how to knit like the old Dales knitters! I can’t promise to make you into a ‘terrible knitter of Dent’ in a couple of hours. But you will learn how to use a knitting stick and be part of the revival of this almost-lost art.

What is this thing, a ‘knitting stick’?

Knitting sticks were widely used by Yorkshire knitters from the seventeenth century to the twentieth. It was usually a piece of wood with a hole drilled in it, used to anchor the working needle. This made knitting faster and less strain on the wrists. There is a knack to using a knitting stick. It is useful for folk who do living history, also people with some disabilities, or who are prone to repetitive strain injuries, can benefit from using a knitting stick. They’re great for traditional knitting – Arans,  gansies or Fair Isle but also fantastic for knitting contemporary designs ~ jumpers, socks, hats or gloves. Whether you knit in the round or on two needles,  learning to use a knitting stick will speed up your knitting and improve your tension.


The Yorkshire Museum of Farming

Murton Park



YO19 5UF

Date & Time

Saturday April 5th, and Sunday April 6th. Workshops are part of the museum’s Country Crafts weekend, so plenty of other things to see and do at the Museum.

Time: 1:30pm – 3:30pm

Price: £12.50 (includes Museum admission)

Suitable for: knitters who know how to cast on!

Bring: yourself, and a belt (or apron with a waistband). You’ll tuck your stick into this. Materials will be provided at workshop. We will loan you a stick, and needles, on the day, for you to learn with.  But feel free to acquire your own and bring them along. Needles: if bringing your own, 8” or longer stainless steel dpns are best. We will loan on the day though.

NB: We won’t be knitting a set project, just learning the technique – so you can bring along something you’re already working on (if you have dpns for it, 2 or 4 as appropriate) or just bring yourself and a belt! So long as you can cast on and knit, you can do this workshop.

If You Want Your Own Knitting Stick/Belt, You Can Get One From…

You can buy knitting sticks or belts from Handmade Things.

Shetland knitting belts are also available from Jamieson & Smith, the Shetland Wool Brokers.

What You’ll Learn:

You’ll leave this workshop knowing how to knit using a knitting stick (sheath) or belt, so you can then take this useful technique and run with it… (Don’t run with needles, though! Not very sensible) .

Workshop places are limited, so pre-book to avoid disappointment.

To book, email or phone the Museum on 01904 489966


Mr Craven’s Wool Combs

IMG_0657A few months back, myself and friend, the lovely Caro, spent some time at the Bankfield Museum, in Halifax.

We were there to document the spinning wheels – particularly any great wheels – in the reserve collection. For many years, the Bankfield was legendary amongst textile historians and enthusiasts. The current displays are fantastic – but the museum is less textile orientated, these days and many of the beautiful wheels and other equipment in their care will probably not be back on display again for some time.  Our piece about the wheels will hopefully be appearing in the forthcoming ‘Yarnmaker’ magazine, so I will keep schtum about the stunning wheels we saw in the Bankfield’s nether reaches!

But I thought these Halifax-made combs might be fun to share.  In amongst the lovely wheels, we found a pair of four pitched hand combs. They had a maker’s name stamped on them, which appeared to read: “W RAVEN, Hallifax (sic), 1850”.  The owner had carved his initials “I H” and the number “4” onto them, too. 4 could refer to a size, or maybe just they had a whole load of combs so was easier to number them.

Monumental inscriptions from the 18thC and sometimes earlier 19thC, often have the convention of carving the initial”J” as an “I”, so I’d assume the combs very likely belonged to “John” (Something Beginning With ‘H’)! ‘John’ is a fairly safe bet, just as ‘William’ is for “W” in Yorkshire, at those dates….

IMG_0658I spent some time looking for a “William Raven” in the 1851 Census, hoping he had lived one more year so would be findable. No luck! Couldn’t find him in Halifax Trade Directories online, either.

I looked back at my notes, taken on the day and confirmed the combs had “W Raven” stamped into them.  So back to look at the for-reference-only photos Caro took on the day. “W – suspiciously long gap – Raven” and the penny dropped. Common local name for Halifax – Craven. Looking for a comb-maker called “William Craven”, I had more luck.

I found him on 1851 Census:

William Craven, 5 Bates Yard, Halifax. “ Wool Comb Maker” aged 31, “Master 6 men and 1 boy”.  He was born in Halifax, around 1820. He had a wife, Margaret, 36 – and by the time of this census, they had 2 daughters and a son aged 6 and under.  A quick look at Halifax’s baptism records showed the births of  other children, prior to 1850, who had not survived.

By the next census, Margaret was not recorded as “widow” but “married”. This may have been an enumerator’s mistake, as I couldn’t find William.  Another thing that made me suspect William’s death was that she was now the Head of her household and “Charwoman”. Quite a difficult transition for a woman whose husband had had seven employees, so presumably a good business, only years before.  I’m not sure when the process of wool-combing was fully mechanised, but as late as the 1850s, there seems to have been a brisk trade in English wool combs, as the Trade Directories list several comb-makers for the Halifax area, and presumably Bradford, Leeds and Huddersfield had comb-makers of their own.

In 1843, one of William’s children’s baptism recorded him as ‘comber’  but according to a subsequent baptism, by 1845, he was a “wool comb maker”. He may have made hundreds of pairs of combs – it is possible only this pair survive.

ahalifaxA look round Halifax parish church’s graveyard , and we found many gravestones gave the person’s occupation. Amongst these were cardmakers, woolstaplers and wool merchants.  No trip to Halifax is ever complete without a visit to the Piece Hall. And for textile enthusiasts, it is compulsory. I bought my first spindle here in the 1980s. Not realising at the time, even what the ‘Piece Hall’ was! It is one of only two complete cloth halls left in Europe and probably always was Europe’s most spectacular place to sell ‘pieces’ of cloth. Built in 1779, trading went on in whispers (so no-one could hear the deals clothiers were striking) over a period of just two hours, every Saturday.  Clothiers hired one of the 315 rooms.  Most hand-loom weavers aimed at producing roughly one piece a week.

Piece Hall is currently being refurbished. I can’t wait to see it again. I loved Piece Hall for many years before I found out, last year, my great X 5 grandfathers, Eli Crabtree and William Lister, were very likely regulars there,  as Halifax weavers in the wool trade.  So strange that a random day-trip, some time in the mid 1980s, brought us here, where I bought my first spindle and this whole odyssey began – in my ancestors’ footsteps.

Photos:  ©Caro Heyworth

Upper storey – each stall is behind a door!

 In memory of my dear friend Caro Heyworth. This was a happy day spent with Caro, in Halifax, where we re-traced the footsteps of Dorothy Wordsworth in the city (I will write about that one day) and  remembering us getting lost on the way back when she had to switch the sat nav over to an Australian accent because she found that “more cheerful”. Caro, you will be forever missed by so many people.

Caro, as Dorothy Wordsworth, Dove Cottage, 2011.