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Q: obscure knitting tools ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: obscure knitting tools
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: shibor12-ga
List Price: $25.00
Posted: 14 May 2003 05:07 PDT
Expires: 13 Jun 2003 05:07 PDT
Question ID: 203542
I am looking for the name of a knitting tool. It was used for many
years-like maybe a couple of centuries, but is not commonly used at
present. It was held in the hand or possibly on a knitter's index
finger in such a way as to allow one of the needles to remain static.

Request for Question Clarification by leli-ga on 14 May 2003 06:34 PDT
Hello shibor12

I do know of a traditional English knitting tool for keeping one of
the needles still, but it wasn't held in the hand or fingers. It is
said to have speeded up knitting and produced a more even tension, but
has hardly been used since the end of the 19th century. If you think
this is the tool you want to know more about, please let us know.

There is also a device to help with multicolor knitting which is worn
on the index finger, but these are available today.

Regards - Leli

Clarification of Question by shibor12-ga on 14 May 2003 14:34 PDT
This may be the tool. I think it was first used in the early 1700's. I
know that it was used in England and that it came to the US. It was
used for "European" style knitting. It seemed to keep the back needle
from moving. I recently saw a place that hand makes them now out of
wood. Unfortunately, I can't remember the site.
Subject: Re: obscure knitting tools
Answered By: leli-ga on 14 May 2003 14:36 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello again shibor12

After further research, I am confident that you must be thinking of a
knitting sheath, also known as a knitting stick. These were used for
keeping one needle static, although they were attached to the
knitter's clothing, not used in the hand. In fact, one of the reasons
they were so helpful is that they freed one hand to take more control
of the yarn, or perform other tasks.

The sheath was tucked into the knitter's waistband or belt, or even
stitched onto an apron. In Yorkshire (England) they were called
knitting sticks and had a short tubular opening for the end of a
double-pointed needle. A curved piece would hook in at the waist and
the whole thing might be covered in decorative carving.

Whatever the design, the sheath had to have both a slot for the end of
the needle and a way of attaching it to clothing. Knitting sheaths
were especially important to women who had to produce hand-knitted
goods for sale, as the fixed needle helped them work faster and more


"The knitters wore a belt into which was tucked on the right side, a
knitting sheath or stick. These sticks had a hole bored through the
centre in which the needle nearest on the right, fitted and was held
rigid. Most of the work was done by the left needle. Not only could
the knitters work faster this semi rigid way, the tension they
produced was tighter and the work more even than by the modern English
way of handknitting. Often a lad would carve as a betrothal token, a
knitting stick for his lass. In the Dales, the favourite type of
knitting stick was a shape known as the goose quill, which was curved
and elegant.. The yarn was held in [a] holder hooked on to the belt."

Knitting in the Yorkshire Dales

"Early knitting needles were made without knobs on the ends, and a
special tool, the knitting sheath, was made to support one needle in
the work. It was tucked under the arm or hooked on to the waistband of
a skirt or apron to enable the knitter to work more quickly and

The Tools of the Trade

"Professional production knitters all over Europe and England used
knitting sticks to hold the 'active' needle, which freed the right
hand to manipulate the yarn and needle tips for increased speed."

knitting discussion

And here's the one picture I've found of someone using a knitting

Mrs. Clara Sedgwick


They were known in the USA too.

Gertrude L. Vanderbilt, writing about "the descendants of the Dutch
settlers" and "the traditions, customs, and manners of the Dutch"

"A knitting sheath was used by these old ladies, pinned at the waist,
and their method of holding their needles differed from that of the
knitting of the present time in the use of this knitting sheath."

The Social History of Flatbush

And knitting sheaths feature in this poem from Massachusetts:

"All the younger maids and matrons;
Put away their socks unfinished,
Their yarn and knitting-sheaths. . ."

The First Sewing-Circle


Here are some antique knitting sheaths:

19th century sheaths
1 - treen Knitting Sheath in elm carved heart and leafage branch,
spiral turned handle with metal ferrule 10 3/4in
2 - treen Knitting Sheath scratch carved with large heart motif,
turned and fluted handle, 11 3/4in
("treen" means wooden)

"A 19th Century "witches heart" knitting sheath in brass, pierced
round the edge to enable it to be sewn onto the dress or apron. The
knitting needle fits into a hole in the stem, overall length 5

Picture of the brass knitting sheath

Another heart-shaped knitting sheath, silver this time.

Picture of an ivory knitting stick

Picture of a fruitwood goosewing knitting sheath

"a picture of some Dentdale knitting sheaths, which you hooked into
your belt and and used as a holder for one of the knitting needles."


One company is offering modern reproductions of knitting sticks.

"Traditional Knitting Sticks [...]in Russian Olive ($35.00), Black
Walnut with Maple Inlay ($40.00) aromatic Red Cedar ($25.00). We also
have Hickory ($30.00) and White Pine ($23.00).
Also made just for us: a Suede Knitting Belt. . .strap it around your
hip and fit the dp [double pointed] needle into any of the holes. As
with the above Knitting Sticks, these are used for speed knitting.

Schoolhouse Press

I should point out that in some places "knitting sticks" was simply
the name for  "knitting needles" so there is room for confusion.

Many thanks for a very interesting question. As soon as I saw it, I
remembered having heard of English sock-knitters fixing their knitting
onto a belt. Since then I have checked various websites on the history
of knitting including this very interesting collection of messages:

I also tried out a number of Google search strategies (see below)
without hearing of any other tool for holding a knitting needle still
while working with yarn.

I hope this is interesting and helpful for you. Please don't hesitate
to ask if I can clarify anything.

Regards - Leli

search strategy

knitting history

knitting history tool tools

also combinations of words like:
knit, knitting, needle, needles, static, steady, rigid

this search led me to the phrase "knitting sheath":
knitting needle tool waistband

history knitting sheath sheaths sticks

By the way, these are examples of "knitting thimbles"  worn on the
index finger to control strands of different-colored wool:

Clarification of Answer by leli-ga on 14 May 2003 14:43 PDT

Thanks for your message which arrived just as I had decided to post my
(The time stamps are 2 minutes apart.)

The 1700s period you mention fits in with the growth in the
hand-knitting trade in the Yorkshire Dales:


Request for Answer Clarification by shibor12-ga on 14 May 2003 17:23 PDT
I used the link to schoolhouse press and saw the knitting stick
advertised, but do you have pictures of your selections? How would I
order one?

Thank you. Thank yoy. thank you.

Clarification of Answer by leli-ga on 15 May 2003 01:01 PDT
Thank *you* for the thank-yous!

Unfortunately I don't think there is any picture online of the
Schoolhouse Press knitting sticks. Perhaps you could ask them if
there's a picture in their printed mail-order catalogue?

"When you call Schoolhouse Press, you may reach Meg or Eleanor... or
part-time Michelle (Meg's daughter-in-law) or VERY part-time Tami.

Phones are staffed Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., CST.
Outside those hours, there is an answering machine to take your call.

We'll be pleased to help you with knitting difficulties or questions
if you call 715-884-2799 during our business hours. [..] Please call
if you need a description."

They don't have an online ordering system for first-time buyers and
ask you to call, fax or write.

"In addition to checks, Schoolhouse Press accepts Visa, Mastercard,
and Discover.

write to:
Schoolhouse Press
6899 Cary Bluff
Pittsville WI 54466

or, Call 1-800-YOU-KNIT (800-968-5648)
or, Fax (715) 884-2829"

If you choose to mail a check, you can print out the form on this page
to specify your order:

If you call them and give your credit card details, you can just use
email for any future orders.

There's more about the small family-run company here:

I searched for other stores, but this seems to be the only one with a
website selling knitting sticks. I do hope you'll be able to get all
the details you need from them and end up with exactly what you want.

Good luck with the knitting!

shibor12-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $2.00
The answer was thorough and timely, I will certainly use this service
again. I will also reccommend it to friends.

Subject: Re: obscure knitting tools
From: leli-ga on 15 May 2003 08:29 PDT
Thank-you very much for the tip, stars and nice comments.
I hope you enjoy your knitting sticks!

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