Tuesday 24 June 2014

The Terrible Knitters of Dent

My copy of The Knitter magazine issue 73 arrived in the post yesterday and inside there's a feature by me about The Knitters of Dent on the Yorkshire border. As I'm a Yorkshire lass I take a special interest in Yorkshire history and this piece was a favourite of mine to research.

Image courtesy of The Knitter magazine
Today Dentdale is prime holiday country but in pre-industrial times up until the early 1900s the main industry there was knitting, making use of all that Yorkshire wool. Children were taught to knit at a young age and all family members would knit at every possible moment. Payment was per garment - gloves, socks etc - and if they weren't up to scratch you forfeited the money.

My parents visited the area last year on holiday and did some background research for me, taking photos and picking up leaflets. My dad gave me an old book he had about Yorkshire history from the 1950s, which contained some quotes from people reminiscing about the old days in Dent. I then did some background research and found a museum near Burnley, Gawthorpe Hall, that displays a pair of gloves knitted in Dent.

For the Dent knitters knitting was a necessity to earn poverty-level wages. Farming and knitting were the only jobs available in the area. A modern day comparison is factory workers in Bangladesh sweatshops working very long days for a pittance. I feel extremely fortunate to live in an age and country where knitting is a hobby, not a necessity, that I can devote hours of love and care to. As all knitters know, producing a garment takes a lot of skill, effort and time. Even today in the UK designer-makers struggle to make a living wage from their craft. If you take the cost of the wool and add on the minimum wage for each hour it takes to knit and sew up a jumper practically no-one would pay the price.

It's about time we as a society start to value the work knitters create more and not compare UK knitted garments to those in cheap shops imported from abroad. Best Magazine has reported a woman who found a label sewn into her Primark dress with a plea for help from the maker: "Forced to work exhausting hours". Of course you can't buy a hand-knitted jumper for the same price as a machine-knitted one in Bangladesh or China. But which will last the longest, be a higher quality and have been knitted with love? Quality, not quantity is the way to go.

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