In the Shetland Islands, knitting is known as ‘makkin.’ Hence the name for my belt. You see, most production knitting used ergonomic methods that allowed women (and men, and children) to knit quite quickly, with even tension, and allow knitting while walking or caring for family tasks. In the Shetlands, this involved a knitting, or makkin belt. It’s worn with the large part on the side, and a double pointed knitting needle (pin, as they’re known in the UK) is inserted into the belt at an angle that allows the needle to remain stationary and enables the hands to maintain a more ergonomic position for a longer period of time. It also keeps the wrists more or less out of the motion of knitting, which greatly reduces the risk of over use injury.
I purchased the leather, the awl set, the leather needle, and rivets at my local leather shop. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, I could only get one of the rivets to stay and “grab” the belt so it’s sewn at the other end. It was a lesson for next time. The belt was already made, purchased at the thrift store for something like 50 cents. It’s stuffed with a surprisingly large amount of tulle, as horsehair – the traditional stuffing, while available – was extremely expensive. I know, it’s not especially pretty, but I’m hoping it will be functional. ETA: I used graph paper to sketch out the basic shape and traced it onto the leather. It’s approximately 8″ long, and 3″ wide. I used the 1/8″ diameter awl bit to make the holes for the lacing. I ‘eyeballed’ the holes both for the lacing and for the needles; I didn’t have a tiny awl for small diameter needles so I used a T pin and made those holes; the larger ones are made with a hand punch awl of an unknown diameter. They are randomly placed on the surface.
I have noticed lately that knitting causes me to have pain at the base of my thumb near where it joins the wrist whenever I knit for more than an hour or two – even if I am a good doobee and get up and stretch every hour. I currently have a very large collection of circular needles that I’ve accumulated, because I find they are easier to carry around and use wherever I go. The alteration in my style when I use them, however, causes the pain due to my wrists turning more to flick off the stitches.
I have decided that if I am ever going to be a production knitter I need to become MUCH faster than I am. I’m no slouch right now, but I really want speed without sacrificing quality. When I knit with single point needles, I have always naturally braced one against the crease of my thigh or into a pillow next to me, which allows me to knit faster and more ergonomically. I have no idea where I first learned this, but my paternal grandparents were from Ireland so I may have seen Irish style knitting at a very young age and simply copied my grandmother without realizing it (she passed away a long time ago, I have no real memory of her other than her asking me if I understood – in Gaelic). Using a knitting belt is a natural extension of my instinct, that will allow me to knit in other places than my couch – and to take it with me anywhere I go. I did try lever knitting, where the needle is held under the arm, and that hurt my wrists very badly very quickly.
This is a video of Isolda Teague using a knitting belt. It is probably the most clear in the placement of the belt and the use of the needles that I have seen.
I haven’t tried it out yet, but I am anxious to do so on some sort of project that can be appropriately hidden (like socks) until I get the hang of it.
I suspect that in times to come, when hand made becomes a necessity once again, this will be a good skill to know and to pass along. And I have enough leather left over to make another belt as well.