Framework knitting was a characteristic industry of the English East Midlands. The knitting frame was invented in 1589 by the Rev William Lee of Calverton. It was at first a simple machine, but was steadily developed through the eighteenth century. The first cotton stockings were made on a frame in Nottingham in 1730 using cotton yarn imported from India. Samuel Unwin (1712-99) and Jedediah Strutt (1726-97), leading figures in Industrial Revolution in East Midlands, were both concerned with development of frames. By the 1830s some frames were too large to be accommodated in weavers’ cottages and had to be set up in workshops, but it was not until the second half of the nineteenth century that the hosiery industry became factory-based. By 1851 there were knitters in 220 parishes in the East Midlands, with 4,000 frames in Leicester, nearly 3,500 in Nottingham with 1,400 in the adjacent village of Arnold, 1,750 in Hinckley, 906 in Loughborough, 821 in Mansfield, 700 in Derby, 594 in Ilkeston and 421 in Belper. By the 1840s frames could be built for worsted, cotton, silk, lambs’ wool, merino, angola and alpaca yarns, and they could be adapted to knit gloves, shirts, vests, shawls, cravats, drawers, children’s hoods and night caps. Most knitters employed seamers and stitchers to finish the garments they produced.
The principal museum of the East Midlands knitting industry opened in 1971 at Ruddington 6 km south of Nottingham where there were 343 stocking frames in 1844, and where a survey in 1967 identified 38 cottages occupied in past by framework knitters. It is based in a group of eight buildings forming a quadrangle around a garden, which originated in 1829 as four tenanted homes. There are 23 frames in the various buildings, twelve of which can still be operated, on some of which visitors can practice knitting. The complex includes a frame smith’s workshop. The museum holds an important collection of historic hosiery and investigation into the families of framework knitters is encouraged in a research library. A Textile Emporium sells locally-made textile products and the Chapel Gallery displays works by local artists.