Heritage Crafts


The making of textiles and garments by manipulating yarn into loops using needles. (See also crochet)
Currently viable
Craft category
Historic area of significance
Area practiced currently


Knitting has gone into and out of fashion many times in the last two centuries, and in the twenty-first century has enjoyed a revival. The latest reincarnation is more about making a statement about individuality, as well as developing an innate sense of community, and less about the make-do-and-mend of the 1940s and 50s. Many contemporary knitters have an interest in blogging about their knitting, patterns and techniques. There are now numerous groups that are not only growing individually, but also forming wider communities. Communities also exist online, with blogs being very popular, alongside online groups and social networking, where people can share tips and techniques, run competitions, and share their patterns.


Knitting is a method by which thread or yarn may be turned into cloth by pulling loops (called stitches) through each other. The active stitches are held on a needle until another loop can be passed through them.

There are numerous styles and methods of knitting. In knitting certain articles of clothing, especially larger ones like sweaters, the final knitted garment will be made of several knitted pieces, with individual sections of the garment knitted separately and then sewn together. Seamless knitting, where a whole garment is knitted as a single piece, is also possible. Different yarns and knitting needles may be used to achieve different end products, by giving the final piece different colour, texture or weight.


Shetland lace hand knitting: Shetland lace is an extremely delicate knitted fabric made with soft Shetland wool spun into very fine yarn and knitted into intricate patterns. Shetland lace is traditionally made with wool taken from the throats of native sheep as this is considered to be the finest. The wool is hand carded or brushed between a pair of wooden paddles covered on one side with small metal teeth or tines, and then spun into a gossamer thread. For really fine Shetland lace, the spinner will spin only one strand. For two-ply lace, two strands are twisted together. There are many classic Shetland lace stitches such as old shell, razor shell, bead, feather and fan, fern, trailing leaf, spider diamond and rose diamond.Shetland lace was the mainstay of the Shetland knitwear industry during the nineteenth century. Arthur Anderson, one of the founders of P&O Shipping Company, introduced Shetland shawls to Queen Victoria and from there it became fashionable for ladies to wear Shetland shawls and stockings.

Fair Isle hand knitting: A knitting technique used to create patterns with multiple colours, traditional to Fair Isle and the Shetland Islands in Scotland. Traditional Fair Isle patterns have a limited palette of five or so colours, use only two colours per row, are worked in the round, and limit the length of a run of any particular colour. A highly successful crowd-funded project launched in 2015, Shetland Peerie Makkers, is working to safeguard Shetland hand-knitting.

Traditional glove knitting: The craft of knitting gloves by hand to traditional patterns, particularly the Sanquhar glove from Dumfriesshire, which has a distinctive two colour pattern. The Sanquhar glove is characterised by the use of fine wool, two colours (most commonly, black and white or yellow and brown), and small all-over patterns. Other features include the cuff, knitted in two colours, the initials of the wearer above the cuff, and the sharply-shaped thumb gusset. Today, Sanquhar gloves are not made on a commercial basis but knitting as a leisure activity is huge. They are knitted for sale by about six women in Sanquhar itself (including May McCormick, A’ the Airts, and the Upper Nithsdale Community), and by people all over the world but not usually for sale.

Machine knitting: Many knitwear makers and designers will use hand knitting machines to create all or part of garments. In Shetland, for example, sweaters are often part machine knitted and then have a hand-knitted colourwork cowl added.

Support organisations

Other information

Number of craftspeople: Knitting is a hugely popular craft, mostly undertaken on an amateur/hobby basis but often to an extremely high level. Very few people make their living through hand knitting.

Loraine McClean runs diploma courses in knitting.


National Lottery Heritage Fund
Swire Charitable Trust
The Royal Mint
Pilgrim Trust
Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation
William Grant Foundation

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