About Framework Knitters

What is Framework Knitting?

framework knitters museum machine
Machine knitting was invented in 1589 by William Lee from Calverton in Nottinghamshire. The knitting frame made it possible for workers to produce knitted goods approximately 100 times faster than by hand. The industry was primarily based in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire.
The art of framework knitting is not difficult to acquire, but the best finished work, and all the fancy work, require a quick sight, a ready hand and retentive faculties… I have tried within these few weeks and found the labour very severe… From the Royal Commission enquiring into the conditions of framework knitters 1845

What were working conditions like for framework knitters?

The following is taken from the Royal Commission on Children in Factories, 1833:

Health

…they are, many of them, unhealthy and dyspeptic; …from the long period of labour endured in a close and confined atmosphere….I can tell a stockinger well by his appearance; there is a paleness and certain degree of emaciation and thinness about them.

Wages

Wages have fallen in each branch of the framework knitting trade during the last 30 years, about thirty per cent.

Poverty

The workmen… are physically deteriorated; they are mentally depressed and too often morally debased. Ill fed, ill lodged, and ill clothed… they are a class… easily distinguishable from most others by their personal appearance… hopeless poverty is producing fearful demoralisation…
museum nottingham life illustration

How did the knitting frame give birth to Nottingham Lace?

With slight alterations to the frame it was possible to create the first machine that made lace. Prior to this intervention, Nottingham was not one of the major producers of hand made lace. However its manufacture on frames led to the creation of machines specifically designed to produce Lace. Machine made lace was one of Nottingham’s major industries.

Was framework knitting a major industry in Ruddington?

The framework knitting industry was a key factor in the growth and development of the village of Ruddington. In 1851 about 50% of all households in the village were engaged in the industry in some way. Many former frameshops and workers cottages survive within walking distance of the museum. However these are mostly private residences and businesses and we advise you to be respectful when admiring these historic properties.
framework nottingham museum library

Who was William Lee?

William Lee was the inventor of the knitting frame. He invented it in 1589 during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The frame represented an incredible advance in textile manufacturing. It could knit an entire row in the time it would take an average knitter to form a single loop. However Elizabeth refused to grant Lee a licence so that he would gain financially from the reproduction of the machine. It has been suggested that she was concerned that this new machine would result in financial hardship for hand knitters. Lee left for France to make his fortune but sadly died penniless. However his brother brought the design back to Britain and the machine made knitting trade began to grow.

Who were The Luddites?

Today the term ‘Luddite’ is often incorrectly used to describe someone who is not in favour of progress. It is a term associated with the destruction of machinery. However this is only part of the story. Life was hard in the textile industry and especially for framework knitters. Low wages and high overheads resulted in extreme poverty.Many factors contributed to the plight of the knitters and in the early 19th century they sent a petition to parliament to appeal for help. Their call for intervention did not result in an improvement in their situation. As a result a number of Framework Knitters engaged in ‘frame breaking’, the destruction of Knitting Frames. The breakers were called Luddites after the name of their mythical leader who they called Ned Ludd.
framework knitters William Lee