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“It was all work i’ them days. It all had to come from your finger ends.”

On one of those bright spring days that makes you think you might be able to break out a cotton cardigan instead of a woolly sweater, I travelled from my sea-level town in Lancashire to Hawes, the highest market town in the Yorkshire Dales. 

The Dales are like no other place in England. Gray stone farmhouses and barns stand lonely and sentry-like halfway up hills carved by ice millennia ago. Hardy sheep are hefted to the land or “heughed” as the locals say. The hardiness of the sheep mirrors the hardiness of the people who conjured their existence on farms and in remote villages from their “finger ends.”

The daily work of the Dales people forms the heart of the collection of the Dales Countryside Museum. Like so many regional museums in Britain, the museum had its beginnings with passionate Britons who recognized that the traditional farming and working life of the Dales was rapidly changing in the twentieth century.  

In the 1950s and 1960s, Marie Hartley and Joan Ingilby, two tenacious women, travelled the Yorkshire Dales asking people about farm tools and knitted gloves, inglenook fireplaces and cheese-pressing stones. They collected historical objects from estate and farm sales, and accepted them from Dales people who heard that they were looking for things.

Marie Hartley and Joan Ingilby going over a map and planning one of their research trips

Ultimately, Hartley and Ingilby wrote Life and Traditions of the Yorkshire Dales, a bestseller which is still in print today; and they acquired so many objects in their research that they founded a museum.

Perhaps most exciting for knitters and textile devotees, Hartley and Ingilby also authored The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales that features many items in the museum’s collection.

The museum displays photographs of several local knitters at work. In one you can see Martha Dinsdale of Appersett near Hawes using curved pins and a knitting stick. She has a leather belt around her waist and a wood and bone knitting stick tucked between the belt and her side, with her curved pin fixed in the hole at the end of the stick.

To me knitting sticks are like jewels—they were the stars of my visit to the Dales Countryside Museum. Carved or welded by fathers, husbands, brothers, and sweethearts, knitting sticks are full of unknown but hinted-at stories. They are the snowflakes of knitting accessories, no two alike. Goosewing, dagger, forked, spindle, and heart styles made of wood, tin, bone, lead or brass. Others feature carvings or shapes specific to Dales villages or areas like Swaledale, Wensleydale, Dentdale, Teesdale, and Clapdale.


For many hundreds of years, knitting provided an essential and sometimes the only source of income for families of the Dales. Lead mining, shepherding, and farming, some coal mining and other village work like smithing, shoemaking, and cheesemaking completed the circle of daily life. But their pins were never still. And knitting was done while tending fires, minding children, making cheese, keeping house, and herding livestock. An anonymous poem from the museum puts it this way:

“She knows how to

sing and knit. And she

knows how to carry the

kit. While she drives

her kye [cow] to pasture.”

And what were they knitting? They mainly knitted practical garments like their own sweaters, shawls, hats, caps, jackets, and stockings, and stockings for traders who brought wool to them for the purpose. They knitted thick leg warmers for the lead miners.

Some also knitted extraordinarily fine gloves on tiny needles with tiny patterns. Like many fragile and well-loved textiles, there aren’t many surviving examples of these Dales gloves, but the Dales Countryside Museum has several in their permanent display and their archives. In 1834 poet Robert Southey wrote about the “terrible knitters e Dent”—terrible meaning extraordinary because of their exceptional speed and the quantity of the stockings they knitted. 

Any knitter who has spent time on US 0 (2 mm) or smaller needles knows what a feat it is to simply see a pattern through at that gauge, but to knit a miniscule stranded pattern on the back and front of a glove through the thumb gussets and along each finger shows the dedication and skill needed to make these gloves. The patterns are midge and flea, zigzag, tree of life, diamonds, among others, and the initials of the recipient and sometimes the date are knitted into the cuff. If you’re familiar with Sanquhar gloves from Scotland, Dales gloves are their Yorkshire cousins. Gorgeous and rare.

With textile tools like carders, combs, and knitting machines as well as rag rugs and quilts, plus displays on sheep, cows, butter-making, all topped off with Anglo-Saxon and Viking archaeological finds, and an entire exhibition inside several train cars, the Dales Countryside Museum will keep you busy for the entire day.

The bustling market town of Hawes is replete with tea shops, pubs, antique, and gift shops. You can also walk along the windswept Pennine Way from Hawes. Plus, if you just have to get knitting right away, there’s the wonderful Julie at Abbotstone House who runs the tiniest fabric and wool shop I’ve ever visited tucked into the side of a hill.

Abbotstone Wool from the fleeces of Blue Faced Leicester sheep who graze the fields in Hawes

If you are crazy about cheese and ice cream, the famous Wensleydale Creamery is in Hawes too.

You might just want to stay overnight!

More Resources

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About The Author

Jeni Hankins is an American performing artist, writer, and maker living in London and Lancashire. Since 2008, she’s toured extensively throughout the USA, Canada, and the UK. Find her recordings on Bandcamp and catch up with her musings on Substack.


  • Thanks for the lovely trip to the Dales.

    • My homeland!! thank you so much for the return visit, from a very old lady who was a child in the Dales, Kildale, next to Rosedale.

      • What a wonderful treat!

      • I would love so much to hear about your childhood in Kildale. Thank you for reading and commenting. I’m glad that this took you back home.

      • Happy to meet you, my hometown was Goole, I learned to knit there from my Mother, in Canada now since 1946.

  • Thanks to James Herriot, I’ve always wanted to visit the Dales. Now I want to go even more. Thank you for the lovely virtual tour.

    • A lovely feature. Hawes is one of my favourite spots in the UK especially at this time of year with the lambs and soon the haymeadows will be in flower. Our knitting group like to head to Yorkshire – lots of great knitting inspiration. Will be visiting the Museum next time I’m there. Thank you x

      • Wow! What inspiration! Thank you for such an inviting tour. I’m just catching up on articles I missed while caring for my husband. Since his death, I have renewed my Passport, moved, and now I’m ready to go somewhere. This may be just what I need. I loved your other articles featured here at MDK as well. You have talent and a blessed profession.

        • Dear Susan, Thank you for your beautiful and kind comment. I hope you will be able to visit the Dales and this museum. I feel like the Dales are so windswept and other-worldly that they are good for making my heart expand and my head feel clear. It’s just that kind of place. And you’re not far from York where you can experience the breadth of English history in a small, but buzzing city. Wherever you go, I hope you will feel peace and enjoy the kindness of strangers. xo

  • Bookmarking this article for future travels. Thanks.

  • Thank you for the lovely visit! If I get back to the UK I’ll add it to the list. Those tiny, tiny, stitches — no electric light or reading glasses!

  • Fascinating!

  • Wonderful! I am in awe of these women.

  • On my dream list!

  • I just returned from a trip to Coniston. I’ll save this article for my next trip.

  • So grateful that these items are maintained in a museum.

  • More! Please tell us and show us more!
    We have much to be thankful for with hardy ancestors who blazed trails for us, not knowing we’d follow their paths.

  • Fascinating! Thank you!

  • Lovely to see, thank you!

  • This was great – thank you! We’ll be in Yorkshire this summer – maybe we can visit….

  • We visited Hawes last fall, and had the pleasure of seeing a sheep herding demonstration, with a team of brilliant dogs. While having a fish and chips dinner, the Queens passing was announced on the BBC radio. A moment I shall never forget.

  • Amazing. What a lovely piece. But, please explain knitting sticks. How do those work?

    • Hi BJ, Thanks for your comment! I’m so glad you enjoyed my article. There’s a link to a video with Ann Kingstone at the end of the article and she shows how the knitting sticks are used. I don’t know if you are in England, but if you are, she’ll be showing how to use them in person at the museum on May 20, 2023 during a glove study day. Many smiles to you!

  • What a beautiful tour!

  • Wonderful! Who wants to come with me?

  • The home for BFL. Such a treat

  • Wow! I just returned from the Yorkshire Dales they started with a Marie Wallin Wensleydale Fingerless Mitts class and then three nights in Hawes. The Dales Countryside Museum was our first stop. We also knitted for a bit with the Hawes Yarnbombers!

    • Wish I’d been there. Who ran this trip?

  • What an amazing trip, thank you for taking me along!
    I’d love to save this article, but don’t see the button; I’m logged in.

    • Well I found the button, but it doesn’t turn that wonderful shade of orange indicating it’s saved.

  • Great read!! Appreciate the detail and time spent enabling us!!

  • Loved this glimpse of knitting history and scenic Dales.

  • Wensleydale – the cheese from Wallace and Gromit (and remember, Gromit was a knitter!).

  • So interesting! I was also reminded of those heartwarming Herriott books and tv shows. It made me think that even in their historically repressed (and who can really suppress most women?) state, women such as the Marie and Joan can do amazing things. Along the same lines, the sumptuous Heard Museum in Phoenix, devoted to the culture of indigenous Americans displaying not knitting (that I can remember) but a rich collection of gorgeous weavings, jewelry, pottery, cradleboards, among other handmade items, was founded by a woman, the wife of a businessman, who had time on her hands and put it to good use. For anyone visiting Phoenix it is well worth a few inspiring hours. Chloe

    • Thanks so much for the recommendation! I’ll definitely go to the Heard when I’m next in Phoenix.

    • I second the recommendation for the Heard Museum! I had the opportunity to visit while on a business trip. The bead work, jewelry, basketry and weaving were amazing.

  • Fascinating and thank you for the link to Ann Kingstone’s video!! What a great resource, it’s amazing what people have taken the time to share online. Interesting to see this category of hand-carved tools made to “support” a craft. (I’m familiar with a variety of tools made for bobbin lace.) Just went on a fiber farm tour in Washington Co., NY last weekend, a number of small farms raising various types of sheep and alpacas. Wasn’t quite like being in the English countryside, but a good local option. Ah, Wallace and Gromit! Forgot that he knitted.

  • Delightful – thank you!

  • Going to Yorkshire in late September, so this article comes as a wonderful enticement for a knitter. Thanks you for including it and the resources.

  • Just read in Knitter magazine (issue 189) that there’s an Ann Kingstone retreat in the Dales in May 2024. Check her website.

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