Love Tokens, Sittings and Songs

Knitting Sticks from the John Dixon Collection

02 October 2021 to March 27 2022

A stunning exhibition showcases collection a special form of folk art, the knitting stick. The collection belongs to John Dixon, a retired carpet fitter from Huddersfield. During the past twenty years he has collected more than 400 sticks, each unique in design.

A knitting stick is a piece of wood with a hole in the end for the needle.  It’s tucked under your arm [or held fast in a belt] so you can knit with three or four needles.  They learned in the 1800s that if you had a stick, you could knit faster and therefore earn more money.  The money that they earned was a pittance but it was better than nothing.

John Dixon and his knitting sticks collection

Knitting sticks were used in Britain wherever wool was produced, but they have fallen out of use. In the Dales the sticks were plainer, but each was a unique piece of wood carving.  Although created for a very practical purpose, knitting sticks were often treasured possessions, being given as love tokens carved for mothers and sweethearts.

‘Goose wing’ style knitting stick typical of the Dales

In this exhibition, the knitting sticks are cased in groups that highlight the different styles. Some, called representations, are shaped like fish, hands, legs, shoes or dogs. Others are shaped like pegs, spindles, or have intricate chains carved from a single piece of wood. There are also examples from Spain, Greece, Holland, Bavaria and France. Some are decorated with tiny glazed windows containing messages or the name of the woman who would have received it as a gift. Others have heart shapes made from bone or are inlaid with wood.