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Cottage industries grew out of the seasonal nature of agricultural work. Farm workers or their families often had time to carry on some additional form of work, producing goods for sale during the off-season or in the evenings. Many of the traditional crafts carried out were the salvation of the rural economy; farm workers were notoriously poorly-paid, and needed to top up their incomes. Such things as lace, baskets, besoms, cloth and clothing were produced at home. Honey production was also a home-based industry, as was dyeing.

During the Industrial Revolution, many workers began to install rented knitting frames and looms, returning the goods through agents to the industrialists. The machine lace industry initially relied on these outworkers, and much work for the textile and clothing industries is still done in home workshops and bedrooms. There are movements in the UK to regulate the amount paid to home workers, as many are working long hours for much less than they would receive in a factory.

This is not just a feature of 18th and 19th century economics. In the Third World, as in the West, many families can only survive by taking small quantities of work into their homes, and after all, what is telecommuting if not a 21st-century form of cottage industry?

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