Nineteenth-Century Female Outworkers, Methlick

Methlick on a map published in the nineteenth century
Methlick (Map detail reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland)

From the mid-eighteenth century onwards, hosiery merchants in Aberdeen were supplied with stockings hand knitted in the rural communities surrounding the city. In the 1830s, an agent for A. Hadden and Sons, a spinning and hosiery manufacturing company in Aberdeen:

had the names of 200 workers in his Methlick book, and these were chiefly the wives and daughters of small farmers and crofters.
Scottish Home Industries, 1895

The agent for ‘Hadden’s factory’ visited several sites in the area every month to distribute yarn and collect knitted stockings, jackets, and mittens. The women were paid 3 ½ d. a pair for common plain stockings; 5d. for black and white striped stockings; and 10d. for jackets.

A very diligent knitter managed a pair of stockings in a day, but with general household work in hand a woman considered herself very fortunate if she made 5s. a month.
Scottish Home Industries, 1895

According to the Statistical Account for Scotland, women in Methlick at the turn of the eighteenth century were paid 2s.-3s. to spin and knit a pair of stockings, so 3 ½ d. a pair shows a significant drop in earnings. However, many Aberdeen hosiery merchants and manufacturers offered less money because they chose to concentrate on the production of plain stockings, which took less time to knit.

Ink drawing of a croft interior and a woman knitting by the fireplace
Illustration from Scottish Home Industries, published in 1895

For much of the nineteenth century, hosiery merchants and spinners in Aberdeen continued to rely on outworkers and crofters in the surrounding area to supply them with hand-knitted goods. The availability of this cheap and flexible workforce appears to have discouraged many of them from investing in automated knitting machinery until the last quarter of the nineteenth century.