The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Frame knitting

 

The production of knit fabrics using a knitting frame, knitting loom or hand knitting machine.

 

Status Critically endangered
Historic area of significance Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire
Area currently practised Nottingham (FWKM, Ruddington and GH Hurt & Son, Chilwell), Leicestershire (Martin Green, Independent in Kirby Muxloe)
Origin in the UK The frame was invented in Nottinghamshire in 1589
Current no. of professionals (main income) 0. The last commercial frame knitter retired in 2020.
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
3
Current no. of trainees 5 trainees at the Framework Knitters’ Museum
Current total no. serious amateur makers
1. There are around 12 experienced knitters but none have their own frame.
Current total no. of leisure makers
6-10
Minimum no. of craftspeople required 12. There are several branches of knitting and people tend to specialise in only one – shawls, stockings, socks, shirts etc.

 

History

Framework knitting was once one of the most important industries in the East Midlands. It started in Nottinghamshire where William Lee of Calverton invented the stocking frame in 1589. After a patent was refused by Elizabeth I, Lee took his invention to France in 1608 where he later died.

Lee’s brother and other workers set up a framework knitting business in Spitalfields, London and a charter was granted forming the London Company of Framework Knitters. The greatest concentration of machines was in London but other areas, namely the East Midlands began to increase the numbers of machines until the roles were reversed and Nottingham and Leicester had the greater proportion of machines. By 1782 the East Midlands could boast 90 per cent of the country’s stocking frames. The breakthrough with cotton hose came with the introduction of Jeremiah Strutt’s attachment for the frame which produced his ‘Derby rib’ in 1759.

The East Midlands was the centre of stocking frames for some considerable time. In Nottinghamshire, areas around Mansfield, Sutton-in-Ashfield, Southwell, Bulwell, Arnold, Hucknall, Nottingham, Ruddington and Keyworth saw the rapid expansion of the domestic knitting industry.  An estimated total of 14,879 frames were being worked in Nottinghamshire.

With a change in fashion at the beginning of the 19th century, there was a decline in the framework knitters staple – ‘fancy work’. The smaller frames could only produce small quantities of quality goods at a time, whereas, the new larger frames could produce wider lengths of material and the use of ‘cut ups’ became a major grievance for the knitters, who saw the introduction of these larger machines as a threat to their skills and a reduction of standards and the loss of traditional crafts. The first Luddite disturbances occurred in Nottinghamshire in 1811.

Framework knitting was a domestic industry. The whole family worked in the industry.  The men normally did the knitting, the women spun the yarn and finished the hose, which required needlework skills for seaming and embroidery. The work was given out through a middle person and the knitters had to accept the wage or go without work. For many they lived in abject poverty and wretchedness. The children would begin to help as soon as they were able.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, steam powered knitting machines allowed the industry to progress to a proper factory based phase. Framework knitting all but disappeared with just a few knitters carrying on producing specialist work for niche markets.

 

Techniques

Techniques vary depending on the branch of the craft. Knitted lace or shawls requires the use of lace bars or hand transfer work. Stocking production requires producing shaped fully fashioned lengths on fabric and creating a variety of ribs. Hand frame knitting can also produce striped or diamond work.

 

Local forms

The craft produced different products in different area dependent on local skill and availability of raw materials. Leicestershire specialised in wool product, Nottinghamshire predominantly cotton and Derbyshire a mix of cotton, wool and silk where it was spun on the River Derwent. Communities worked together to produce whole garments so many villages developed specialisms such as stockings, gloves, caps, ties, shirts or surgical hose.

 

Sub-crafts

  • Frame smithing (extinct) – The frame smith was an essential partner in this craft. We know of no frames produced after the 1950s.

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Market issues: Lack of demand for hand frame produced articles
  • Market issues: Lack of awareness of frame knitting as a craft form
  • Training issues: Funding and infrastructure for training
  • Training issues: Availability of frames for training.

 

Support organisations

  • Worshipful Company of Framework Knitters

 

Craftspeople currently known

Individual craftspeople:

  • Matthew Hamilton
  • Martin Green
  • Henry Hurt
  • Reg Robbins

According to the Framework Knitters’ Museum there are other knitters who are able but are not active.

Businesses employing two or more makers:

  • Framework Knitters’ Museum, Ruddington
  • G. H. Hurt & Son, Chilwell, Nottingham

 

Other information

Nottingham Trent University are trying to obtain funding to create a digital training manual for teaching the craft.

The Framework Knitters’ Museum runs weekly workshops and regular taster events.

 

References