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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Nottingham

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Lace machine at Long Eaton
Black lead and bleaching - the Nottingham lace industry

The knitting frame had been invented by William Lee of Calverton, Nottinghamshire, in 1589, and by the mid-1700s there were about 1,800 frames in Britain, the majority located in the East Midland's counties of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire.

Knitting frame
Knitting frame at G H Hurt & Son
© Henry Hurt
Until this time the principal product of the knitting frame had been hose, hence its better-known name of stocking frame, but due to changes in fashion - males no longer required so many hose while females wanted fine fabric - various technical alterations to the knitting frame enabled it to make net. At the peak of production, about 1810, there were up to 1,800 frames knitting net which was processed through Nottingham, and was the first 'Nottingham lace.'

Just as in hose knitting by machine early lace net frames were operated by hand. The production unit was the home, often an upstairs room occupying the whole of the attic floor, or a workshop within the domestic curtilage, and usually the whole family was involved. The man worked the frame while the women and children carried out the auxiliary tasks, such as preparing thread or embroidering net.

Hours of work were irregular, depending upon the amount of work available. However, it was noted that the lace makers were notorious at taking things easy at the beginning of the week and 'Saint Mondays', and often 'Saint Tuesdays', were as common a feature of the early net trade as they were of framework knitting, and it was the long hours worked at the end of the week that enabled the lace web to reach the warehouse on Saturday.

Words: Sheila A. Mason, BA (Hons), FRSA

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