A Wale of a Tale

As we at Gosh Yarn It! like to point out, knitting and crocheting can be survival skills.  Knitting was a literal life saver in Wales in the year without a summer.

In April 1815, Indonesia’s Mount Tambora erupted, causing global temperatures to drop.  This led to some dreary summer days in 1816, and a gang of writers decided to have a scary story contest to salvage their ruined Swiss vacation.  Colder temperatures and heavy rains also led to crop failures in Britain and Ireland, including Wales.  This is where knitting comes in.  In 2012, Wales was home to nearly 8.9 million sheep – and about 3.06 million people.

So when famine struck, men and women took advantage of the domestic stocking industry in such places as Merioneth and Llanuwchllyn.  The knitting of stockings was a major cottage industry in the highland districts of Wales.  Robert Thomas wrote that local men, in addition to women, were skilled knitters, and children were taught to knit as well, so that entire families could pitch in during the hardship.

Traditional stockings from mid-Wales are made with undyed wool welts and toes, and blue or grey legs.  Although most stockings were based more on tradition than on patterns, you can find out more from Nancy Bush’s pattern, published in Folk Socks: The History and Techniques of Handknitted Footwear.

Welsh women were pros when it came to knitting productivity.  They took raw wool, carded it, spun it, and knitted it up, typically producing four pairs of stockings per week.  They took their handicraft everywhere, knitting while they walked.

And in the evenings…

They had knitting groups where they would gather together for nosweithiau gwau, also known as knitting nights or stitch ‘n bitch sessions!



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