Knitting is a skill that's as old as time, no one knows when it was first invented but in 1589 William Lee of Calverton, Nottinghamshire invented the first ever machine, one that could knit. Whilst in it's early days the frame was crude and ineffective, but over many, many years the machine developed and eventually spread across the whole of England. In the 16th Century there was a demand for 10 million pairs of stockings alone, not to mention other knitted goods, and over time it was these machines (which later became known as stocking frames) which were able to help meet this increasing demand.
Due to this demand for knitted goods, a typical framework knitter would be required to train as an apprentice for 7 years before going into the family business and renting out a machine in a workshop. A typical work day would consist of anywhere from 12-16 hours of work at a machine, knitting upwards of 30 to 40 rows per minute (ca. 1850's). All of this, 6 days a week.
In modern times, products can be made quickly and cheaply in less expensive labour markets abroad or one person can watch several automatic knitting machines in operation while products just fall out of them. At the Framework Knitters' Museum, we try and communicate how gruelling a work life the knitters' had but to experience it is a whole other beast.
On Saturday the 17th of August, I'll be undergoing my own 14 hour long framework knitting session, just as the framework knitters' of days gone by would have done. This will be to really experience what using a frame would have been like for a knitter ~200 years ago, and to keep those experiences current in the museum as the last time this was done at the museum was decades ago. This is also quite a spectacle so it'll be an amazing fund raising opportunity too!
Our site has for nearly 200 years been the home of industrious and creative families working in often harsh conditions to produce beautiful textile products that were the pride of the region. This was a tight-knit community of artisans supporting one another to overcome exploitation and poverty. Their endeavour and innovation is the root of the region’s knitting and lace making industry, still thriving with a rich makers’ scene and world-renowned knitwear and fashion course at Nottingham Trent University. We want to reconnect those two worlds to make a significant difference to individuals and ensure we use our site to support those that can benefit most. We know that knitting and making is good for people. As well as being fun and therapeutic, it brings people together and supports a vibrant creative economy. We need your help as we use this history to improve people's lives.
With your donation we can continue to strive to; educate the public about this important slice of history in a living and working museum, develop skills that would otherwise be lost to time, train the next generation of framework knitter, expand our outreach to support textile students in colleges and universities across Nottingham, invest in developing new knitting and engineering techniques, and much more!
For more information on the museum (including opening hours), please visit the museum website and come and visit!