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13 November 2014

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You are in: Nottingham > History > Local history > Spurned love leads to knitting invention


Spurned love leads to knitting invention

William Lee was so fed up with his girlfriend's passion for knitting he produced his own textile machine.

Nottinghamshire has strong links with the textile industry.

Although it's more readily associated with lace it can also boast the inventor of the Knitting Frame (also known as the Stocking Frame).

Attention to me

William Lee was born in Woodborough, just outside Nottingham, in 1563. By 1589 he was working as a curate in Calverton.

There's confusion as to how he actually came to invent the Knitting Frame but one of the more colourful tales is that it was all because of his girlfriend.

The story goes that Lee was deeply in love with a woman from Calverton but she didn't return his affections. Indeed, when he went to her house, she preferred knitting her own stockings and teaching others to do the same, rather than get closer to her man.

Fed up with the situation Lee determined to invent a machine that would make individual stocking making redundant.

For the next three years he gave up everything to pursue this vision. The result was a stocking-weaving machine made almost entirely from wood.

His ministry forgotten, Lee started stocking weaving in Calverton and trained up his brother James and several relatives to do the same.

Jane Wyman

Without Lee there'd be no movie snaps like this

A regal turn-down

The reigning monarch of the time, Queen Elizabeth I, was known to be a fan of knitted silk stockings.

Lee decided to go to London to receive a royal patent from his queen.

Sadly, he was rebuffed. Elizabeth I thought that the fabric used in the machine was too coarse and that such a mechanism would jeopardise employment in the hand knitting industry.

The French lend a hand

Not to be outdone, in 1605, Lee and his brother headed to France. Encouraged by the French King, Henry IV, he eventually entered a partnership with a French company to produce and train frame knitters.

All was going well until 14 May 1610 when King Henry IV was assassinated. Within weeks Lee's regal protection and privileges were lost.

Lee went to court in Paris but as a protestant and a foreigner he was never going to win. Shattered by the experience he died in the French capital in 1614 a broken and penniless man.

The legacy continues

William Lee's brother James managed to escape back to Britain with several workmen and some knitting frames. He entered into a partnership with a miller from Thoroton near Bottesford and they began producing stockings.

Production spread to London where quality silk hose was produced for the gentry.

In 1663 the Worshipful Company of Framework Knitters was granted a Royal Charter. The company regulates the industry, controlling aspects like wages and labour conditions. It continues to exist to this day.

last updated: 22/07/2009 at 12:50
created: 22/07/2009

You are in: Nottingham > History > Local history > Spurned love leads to knitting invention

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