By the mid-seventeenth century, people throughout the British countryside were knitting for their livelihood and continued to do so for the next two centuries. To give an idea of how pervasive knitting was in the United Kingdom, it was reported in 1799 that in one single parish 10,000 people were employed knitting stockings. Through the nineteenth century, many thousands of pairs of British stockings were shipped to Europe and North America.
Beginning with the wool itself, the manufacture of woolen goods helped Britain become a powerful leader in politics and trade worldwide. There is a reason why the Lord Chancellor, Speaker of the House of Lords, sits on a seat stuffed with wool—a woolsack—when meetings are in session. Initiated during King Edward Ill's reign (1327-1377), the woolsack was originally stuffed with English wool to honor the wool trade, England's in 1835 and 1840, followed by a number of published patterns and "knitting recipe" books. The first mass-market woman's magazine, the Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine, was published in 1852 by Samuel Orchart Beeton. This publication became popular in part for the pieces on domestic management written by Beeton's wife Isabella.
Victoria's example of high morality during her long reign (1837-1901) greatly influenced life in Britain. There was relative prosperity and the family was regarded as the central institution. Duty, earnestness, and hard work; these were the moral attributes of the time. Thrift was of utmost importance, and comportment and personal behavior were scrutinized. Changes taking place in thought, attitude, and ability were rapid. In 1852, English philosopher Herbert Spencer coined the term "evolution," and in 1859, Darwin wrote The Origin of Species. So many things were happening to make life easier—both the self-adhesive envelope and the snap fastener were invented in 1860. Patented in 1863, linoleum helped change the way floors were covered and cleaned.
Women were beginning to think more "liberal" thoughts at this time and they were taking on new challenges. Elizabeth
Garnett Anderson (1836-1917) was the first woman to qualify in medicine in Britain, and she pioneered professional education for women. She was the first woman doctor in Britain, the first female member of the British Medical Association, the first female dean of a medical school, and the first woman mayor in British history A tribute written by her daughter after her death at eighty-one states that "She helped to tear down one after another the barriers which, since the beginning of history, hindered woman from work and progress and light and service." On a lighter note, in 1853 woman's rights campaigner Amelia Jenks Bloomer loaned her name to the "bloomers" that gave women much more freedom of movement.
Influenced by artists such as William Morris (1834-1896), a prolific writer, craftsman, painter, and social reformer, the Arts and Crafts movement began in Britain in the 1880s. The ideals of the movement were founded on a rejection of the fussiness of Victorian design and anger toward some of the results of industrialization, along with a rebirth of interest in handmade craft and art.
Weldon's Practical Needlework was born into this climate, at a time in history when doing handwork was becoming a pleasure for leisure, rather than a livelihood or chore indicative of a frugal life; thus Weldon's attracted a new, more educated class of women with some income. That said, knitting on Sundays was still forbidden in some English households up to the 1930s.
The early issues of all the Weldon's Practical Needlework series, including the Practical Knitter and Practical Stocking
Women were beginning to think more "liberal" thoughts. Source: Dover traditional source of wealth. Today, it is stuffed with wool from each of the countries in the British Commonwealth as a sign of unity.
It was this great interest in and need for manufactured woolen goods, be they woven or knitted, that created the environment for the Industrial Revolution. One very early foreshadowing of this important development was the invention of the knitting frame by William Lee in the late 1500s. It was received with little enthusiasm in England because it was regarded as a threat to the livelihood of handknitters. In any case, Lee's frame was the first attempt to mechanize textile work; as the industry continued to grow in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, thought turned more and more toward making textile work faster and less costly.
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