Welcome to my woolly little blog!!

Welcome to my woolly little blog!!
You are welcome to browse, comment, ask questions,
seek advice on a knitting issue and find out more about Shetland and it's world renowned wool.
Plus, some snippets and snaps from my everyday life.
So pull up a chair and sit awhile, away from the rush of the world.
Please do not use any images from my blog as most of them, unless otherwise stated, are my own work.
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Friday, 10 February 2012

The Makkin (Knitting) Belt

Well, it's almost 3.30am and as usual I'm up and about amusing myself til' sleep finally takes over again! So I thought I'd keep to my promise and tell you a little bit about the 'makkin' or knitting belt that we Shetland folks use. (Makkin is just our local dialect name for knitting).
Here's a photo of my one. (Also seen in my blog header.)

My one is actually a child's one! I haven't had it since I was a child. I just happened to find it in a charity shop and I've added another belt to it so it can fit me!!
Makkin belts are made of leather, stuffed with horse hair and tightly stitched around the edges to make them very strong and to keep the hair in. The belts are worn on the right hand side of the knitter, who will then put their knitting needle (we would call this a makkin wire) into one of the many holes that are put on the front of the belt. Here's another photo so you can see how it works.....

link to original image

Makkin belts are particularly helpful when knitting socks and Fair Isle jumpers as they are most often knitted 'in the round'. By placing the makkin wire you are knitting with into one of the holes, it immediately stabilizes the wire and the garment being knitted, thus making it far easier to keep the tension on the makkin continuous and stopping the garment from moving around too much.
The older generations of Shetland women would really have been the ones to benefit most from these belts, and of course they date back a long way. You'll see what I mean by this next photo........

An old Shetland postcard

A hardy breed indeed!
This woman has probably walked all the way to the peat hill and back, knitting as she went! It was normal for the Shetland women to do this as their husbands, brothers or fathers were away at the fishing, often for very long periods of time, so they had no choice but to take care of everything else. You can see just how tough these women were. Their hands were the hands of workers. No acrylic nails in those days! Probably no nails here and there!
Here's two more hardy women makkin, 'yakkin' and 'takkin' the peats home!

An old Shetland postcard

Can you just imagine walking, perhaps miles, over a rough track with a 'kishie' of heavy peats on your back, knitting an intricate Fair Isle pattern as you go? No wonder they all had their makkin belts to help out. And remember, it was necessary to be knitting all the time as this was a source of income for them while their men folks were away at sea. Plus, some of the garments would be for the men at sea to help add an extra layer when exposed to the wild Shetland elements. Interestingly, the sleeves of fishermen's jumpers were made a little bit shorter than normal so that the arms could be kept drier and warmer. This was especially necessary in the icy cold waters of the winter season, although thick gloves would have been worn too.
Well, I'm just going to finish off with a cute little photo that I hope will make you smile. I also hope you have found this post interesting and informative. As always, if you have any questions or want to know more about the fascinating islands of Shetland, please comment or email me and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

link to original image
I love this photo!


  1. Very cool! Very utilitarian yet beautiful! Thanks for sharing! Plus, I love the old photos.

  2. Thanks for your comment. Yes, very utilitarian indeed! I think the older generations were really very practical in the simplest of ways and often with the most basic of tool! Nowadays we have all the technology money can buy but fail to be as practical and adaptable a people as those gone before us. I love the old photos too. There's just something about them that captured life in a way we can't today. 'Speak' soon. Take care.

  3. I've read that by using a knitting belt it's possible to go very fast. But I'm a little confused, because I'm thinking you're going very fast but that needle will be pulled out of the belt and the next one stuck in, right? I keep hoping that I'll find a youtube of someone using one, but so far no such luck.

  4. Where would you suggest one look for a Makkin belt? Are they still being made today?