Origins and development of the Scottish hand-knitting industry
Bennett, Helen M.
The study traces the emergence of handknitting as an industry in Scotland, and follows its course in different areas of the country. A survey of the available evidence - material, documentary, iconographic, and linguistic - suggests that knitting is a recent innovation: it appears that in Northern Europe, Scotland included, neither the making nor the wearing of knitted clothes was common before the end of the Middle Ages, and considerably later in some parts. With the aid of burgh and craft records, and the registers of testaments, the work of the bonnetmakers, the first identifiable knitters in Scotland, is investigated, especially in the main centres - Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kilmarnock and Stewarton. In general, the bonnet-makers are revealed as modest craftsmen producing a variety of low quality knitted woollen garments, mainly for the home market; the exceptions are Edinburgh and, to a lesser extent, Ayrshire, from where there are indications of the export of coarse hose during the seventeenth century. Thereafter the trade is shown to have become concentrated in Ayrshire. Here, during the latter part of the nineteenth century, the making of bonnets by machine methods gradually superseded the old craft of producing bonnets by hand. Outside the ranks of the bonnet-makers, hand-knitting an an industry can be traced from the seventeenth century on. But whereas in North-East Scotland a stocking trade, based on Aberdeen, flourished until the late eighteenth century (the beginning of the main development of frame-knitting in Scotland). elsewhere it came late: this is especially so in parts of North and West Scotland where it appears that knitting was not greatly used until it was introduced as a subsistence activity in the nineteenth century. Finally the special case of Shetland is examined. In these islands, despite the recent advance of mechanisation, handknitting as an industry has maintained a continuous existence from the beginning of the seventeenth century to the present day.