Knitting past and present

Anyone who loves knitting and has an interest in social history should take a trip to the Ruddington Framework Knitters’ Museum near Nottingham, England (www.rfkm.org). I was fortunate enough to spend a few delightful hours there yestedray and found it absolutely fascinating.

The museum is the only surviving example of a 19th century knitters’ yard with cottages, frameshops, outbuildings and gardens, built in 1829. Knitting continued there into the 1920s and the museum provides a fascinating glimpse of how the knitters and their families lived. Life must have been extremely hard – the cottage was only a one-up, one-down and most of the living room was taken up by the knitting frame. All the family, from even the youngest children, would be involved and there was little, if any, time for leisure. It made me feel very humble to think that most of my knitting is done whilst watching TV or listening to music.

The frameshop was like something out of a Dickens novel and, when one of the machines was demonstrated, it was incredibly noisy. It must have been deafening when all the machines were in operation and I don’t suppose the knitters had any sort of ear protection. In fact, concern for workers’ welfare seemed pretty low on the agenda as even the fireplaces in the workshop were to stop the machines getting too cold, rather than to keep the workers warm.

My favourite room was the one full of circular sock machines and there was something very satisfying about turning the handle – although, even so, I wouldn’t want to do it for fourteen hours a day. My next visit to the museum will be for a lesson in how to use these machines and I can’t wait……

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