The Industrial Revolution began about 1750 and continued for a hundred years. In Britain, changes in the way manufacturing was done created a shift from a rural to urban economy. Steam power and coal replaced muscle power, and many jobs that were clone by hand at home were moved into factories where they were clone by machines like the spinning jenny and power loom; knitting machines soon followed.
As new products appeared, new roads and waterways, the railroad, and telegraph communication increased manufacturers' ability to sell and move goods. The distribution of wealth increased when iron and steel construction was improved and factory labor was developed. Large cities grew from small towns, and political and social change was rapid. Instruction in household management and the necessary skills in sewing or related activities had earlier been handed down from mother to daughter; schools wrere now set up to teach these skills as a means of livelihood for the poorer classes. It was not until the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 that what we think of as leisure knitting began to emerge. International trade allowed such items as merino wool to be imported. Home knitting and needlepoint were furthered by the availability of "Berlin" wool, a German-made yarn in luscious colors.
London's Victoria and Albert Museum contains examples from this lime of "drawing room" knitting, small items such as pincushions and purses. Quite different from the rough stockings knitted by country folk, these were luxurious items decorated with beads or pretty patterns. They were likely made by upper-class ladies for entertainment, as gifts, or perhaps if the women's circumstances were reduced, for sale. Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, enjoyed reading to the Queen while she knitted.
By the 18.30s, knitting became fashionable among the educated classes. The first English knitting books were published
Knitter, are illustrated with reproductions of drawings of the items offered. Later issues attest to advancements in print media with patterns illustrated by photographs of items or models wearing the garments.
The fashions of the times are well represented in the pages of Weldon's. Hairstyles and clothing for newly popular hobbies like golf and bicycling are evident. One issue of the Practical Knitter is devoted to dolls and doll clothing, and another offers instruction for knitting initials, figures, and "clox" (clocks) in stockings.
Influenced by artist William Morris, the Arts and Crafts movement began in Britain in the 1880s. Photo courtesy of the Board of Trustees of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Bridgeman Art Library, London/SuperStock.
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