A stocking frame was a mechanical knitting machine used in the
textiles industry. It was invented by William Lee of Calverton near
Nottingham in 1589. Its use, known traditionally as framework
knitting, was the first major stage in the mechanisation of the
textile industry, and played an important part in the early history of
the Industrial Revolution. It was adapted to knit cotton and to do
ribbing, and by 1800 had been adapted as a lace making machine.
4 Influence on the Industrial Revolution
Derby Rib machine
8 See also
10 External links
Six stages in the knitting machine cycle
Lee's machine consisted of a stout wooden frame. It did straight
knitting, not tubular knitting. It had a separate needle for each loop
- these were low carbon steel bearded needles where the tips were
reflexed and could be depressed onto a hollow, closing the loop. The
needles were supported on a needle bar that passed back and forth, to
and from the operator. The beards were simultaneously depressed by a
presser bar. The first machine had eight needles per inch and was
suitable for worsted. The next version had 16 needles per inch and was
suitable for silk.
The mechanical movements:
The needle bar goes forward; the open needles clear the web.
The weft thread is laid on the needles; the jack sinkers descend and
The weft thread is pushed down by the divider bar.
The jack sinkers come forward pulling the thread into the beard of the
The presser bar drops, the needle loops close and the old row of
stitches is drawn off the needle.
The jack sinkers come down in front of the knitting and pull it up so
the process can begin again.
The machine imitated the movements of hand knitters. Lee demonstrated
the operation of the device to Queen Elizabeth I, hoping to obtain a
patent, but she refused, fearing the effects on hand-knitting
industries. The original frame had eight needles to the inch, which
produced only coarse fabric. Lee later improved the mechanism with 20
needles to the inch. By 1598 he was able to knit stockings from silk,
as well as wool, but was again refused a patent by James I. Lee moved
to France, under the patronage of Henri IV, with his workers and his
machines, but was unable to sustain his business. He died in Paris
around 1614. Most of his workers returned to
England with their
frames, which were sold in London.
The commercial failure of Lee's design might have led to a dead-end
for the knitting machine, but John Ashton, one of Lee's assistants,
made a crucial improvement by adding the mechanism known as a
"divider". This is used after the jack sinkers have pulled down a
large loop over all the needles, and the sinker bar has separated out
the loop, the dividers are rested on the loop to give the bearded
needles guidance as they are pulled forward.
A thriving business built up with the exiled
who had settled in the village of
Spitalfields just outside the city
of London. In 1663, the
Worshipful Company of Framework Knitters was
issued a royal charter. By about 1785, however, demand was rising for
cheaper stockings made of cotton. The frame was adapted but became too
expensive for individuals to buy; thus, wealthy men bought the
machines and hired them out to the knitters, providing the materials
and buying the finished product. With increasing competition, they
ignored the standards set by the Chartered Company. Frames were
Leicester by Nicholas Alsop in around 1680, who
encountered resistance and at first worked secretly in a cellar in
Northgate Street, taking his own sons and the children of near
relatives as apprentices. In 1728, the
refused to accept the authority of the
London Company, and the centre
of the trade moved northwards to Nottingham, which also had a lace
The breakthrough with cotton stockings came in 1758 when Jedediah
Strutt introduced an attachment for the frame which produced what
became known as the "
Derby rib". The
Nottingham frameworkers found
themselves increasingly short of raw materials. Initially they used
thread spun in India, but this was expensive and required doubling.
Lancashire yarn was spun for fustian and varied in texture. They tried
spinning cotton themselves but, being used to the long fibres of wool,
experienced great difficulty. Meanwhile, the
Gloucester spinners, who
had been used to a much shorter wool, were able to handle cotton and
their frameworkers were competing with the
Influence on the Industrial Revolution
It was then that
Richard Arkwright arrived with his new experimental
spinning machinery. He initially built a works operated by horsepower
but it was evident that six to eight would be needed at a time,
changed every half-hour. He moved to
Cromford and set up what became
known as the water frame. Strutt, as his partner, set up mills at
Belper and Milford. Thus the area joined
Nottingham in producing
cotton stockings, while Derby, with its mills originated by John Lombe
continued largely with silk; Leicester, a farming area, continued with
For mechanical power to be applied to a stocking frame, it had to be
adapted for rotary motion. In 1769, Samuel Wise, a clockmaker, took
out a patent for changing the hand frame into a rotary. In
Nottingham's case, steam coal was easily available from the
By 1812, there were estimated to be over 25,000 frames in use, most of
them in the three counties, and the frame had come back to Calverton.
Derby Rib machine
Derby Rib machine was invented in 1757 by Strutt. It consisted of
an extra set of bearded needles that operated vertically, taking the
loop and reversing them. This allowed a plain and purl knit to be
used, and led to ribbing and a tighter more flexible fabric. To do
a 3:1 rib, there would be one vertical needle after every third
Lacey knits can be achieved by slipping a stitch, picking up a stitch
or knitting two together. On a frame, a tickler wire could realise
individual loops and create a run that would be picked up by hand. The
frame was modified by adding a tickler bar and a tuck presser, to
allow held and tuck stitches. Here the weft was held in the beard and
carried up to the next course where two threads were passed together.
Messrs Morris and Betts took a patent (807) in 1764 on a stitch
transfer devise where threads from one needle were passed to another.
With tuck stitches, this a created 'eyelet holes'. Partial stitch
transfer produced a marker stitch.
In 1764, a profound change was made to the stocking frame that enabled
it to produce weft-knitted nets. Hammond, the attributed inventor,
used ticklers to stitch-transfer from one needle to the third one
along crossing over two intermediate needles creating a cross stitch.
He also used a tickler to move two stitches two to the right, and then
two to the left in a double cross stitch, Valenciennes lace. To do
this the tickler bar was detached from the frame and attached to
'dogs', that is, jointed arms. This allowed forward motion to scoop,
and sideways motion to shog. New inventions were patented: Frost's
tickler net of 1769, the two plain net of 1777 and the square net of
1781, and their patents were fiercely defended. Harvey changed the
shape of the tickler wires to avoid one in his pin machine. This
became popular in Lyon and Paris where 2000 frames were in use in
In 1803 cotton was used with silk, as Houldsworths were producing 300
A legend later developed that Lee had invented the first machine in
order to get revenge on a lover who had preferred to concentrate on
her knitting rather than attend to him. A painting illustrating this
story was once displayed in the Stocking Framer's Guild hall in
London. In 1846 the Victorian artist
Alfred Elmore produced a
variation on the story in his popular painting The Invention of the
Stocking Loom, in which Lee is depicted pondering his idea as he
watches his wife knitting (
Nottingham Castle Museum).
Protection of Stocking Frames, etc. Act 1788
Destruction of Stocking Frames, etc. Act 1812
Worshipful Company of Framework Knitters where it appears in their
coat of arms
^ Earnshaw 1986, pp. 12,13.
^ Freer, Wendy (23 June 2010). "Framework Knitting". Leicestershire
Industrial History Society. Retrieved 6 December 2016.
^ a b "Rev. William Lee, inventor of the Stocking Frame".
www.victorianweb.org. Retrieved 6 December 2016.
^ John Gough Nichols, 'Notes on ancient hosiery', Leicester
Architectural and Archaeological Society, Hinckley, July 1864; R.A.
McKinley (Ed.), (Occupations: The hosiery industry), 'The City of
Leicester: Social and administrative history, 1660-1835', A History of
the County of Leicester, IV: The City of
Leicester (1958), pp.
153-200; J. Thompson, The History of
Leicester in the 18th Century
London 1871), pp. 254-57.
^ Mellors, Robert (1908). Nicholson, A P, ed. In and about
Nottinghamshire. Nottinghamshire History:Resources for Genealogist.
Retrieved 8 December 2016.
^ "Jedediah Strutt". Spartacus Educational. Retrieved 6 December
^ Earnshaw 1986, p. 18.
^ Earnshaw 1986, p. 19.
^ Earnshaw 1986, p. 21.
^ Earnshaw 1986, p. 24.
Earnshaw, Pat (1986).
Lace Machines and Machine Laces. Batsford.
Cooper, B., (1983) Transformation of a Valley: The Derbyshire Derwent,
Heinneman, republished 1991 Cromford: Scarthin Books
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Lacemaking machines.
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"Hosiery" in Online Encyclopedia, originally appearing in Volume V13,
Page 790 of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica
Wigston Framework Knitters Museum, Leicestershire
Historic Highlights in Development of Hosiery-
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