Learning how to knit when I was younger consisted of nothing more than two needles, some yarn and a pattern, but this artifact opened my eyes to the grand history behind knitting. I was well aware that in the past knitting was a daily event for women who made most of the household clothing items, or those that could be knitted at the very least, like socks. This knitting whisk, though, adds another level of skill to knitting.
The knitting whisk in our collection was made in Rhynie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. How it arrived here we cannot be certain, but the whisk was put to use by the mother of the artifact’s donor. Whether you had to be a professional or not to make use of a knitting whisk, knitting whisp, or knitting stick, our research tells us that having a whisk to hold one your needles made for an efficient task. While some knitting devices of this type were made simply of a carved piece of wood, a bundle of wrapped straw, or a bundle of goose quills wrapped in yarn, the knitting whisk in our collection has a black leather body and a brown leather belt.
From what we can uncover, the holes in the leather body of our knitting whisk were to hold the end of one of the needles. The belt was put on by the knitter and the end of a needle could then be inserted into one of the holes. Supposedly, the whisk made it easier for women to knit. There were even accounts of women wearing them so they could knit on their way home from the market, or just to make it a little faster when sitting around the fireplace in the evening.
In the past the knitting whisk was used for many years in Europe and Great Britain, although it has become less common today, it is still very popular in some European countries. The whisk was typically used to hold the right needle, and therefore was worn towards a woman’s right hip. When worn around the waist the whisk allowed for one’s work to be done higher up, which in turn decreased the need to look down and therefore the strain on one’s neck. Where you wore the belt was all up to preference, but it was suggested to use metal needles, as the strain and tension from being positioned in the belt could cause wooden needles to break.
The most valuable advantages that we came across when researching the now commonly known knitting belt included, an increase in knitting speed due to the minimal movement required, and the ability to allow one hand to solely wrap yarn and control tension allowing for an even piece of work.
Whether you knit for profit or for pleasure, maybe the knitting whisk is something to add to your wish list – it could be quite an investment!