Framework Knitting in England

THE FRAMEWORK KNITTING INDUSTRY in the East Midland of England

The birthplace of the framework knitting industry in the Midlands was in Windles Square, Calverton in Nottinghamshire in about 1834, a group of about twenty two cottages formed the layout of Windles Square, their trade mark was the long windows, clearly seen today in the last remaing cottages, these windows allowed more natural light into the cottages, which meant that the workers had to use less candles to light up their workspace. Framework knitters were often called ‘Stockingers’ and were poor people.

The work and the life of a Frame worker was not an easy one, poor pay, poor conditions, long hours and exploitation by ‘Middlemen’ were common place. When the industry started it was very much a ‘Cottage Industry’ with whole families being involved working from home. The produce was often made to ‘Order’ and sold locally and although the items were mostly plain, coloured items would yield a better income, but this had to be weighed up against the cost of the yarn, which was obviously more expensive to by.

Men mainly did the work on a framework machine, wives did the sewing up, mending, tidying up and embroidery work and children as young as 10 years old, prepared the yarn and spun them onto the spools which went on the machines. The work required close co-ordination between the feet and hands to work efficiently and productively, if any income was to be gained from this work at all.

A Typical Home of a Framework KnitterĀ in England

Frame Workers Home - 3 - Copy

 

Workers had to hire the machines & buy the yarn from the ‘Middlemen’, buy in candles to work in during bad light and had to sell back their work to the ‘Middlemen’ for a low coast, they didn’t make much and they just about survived doing this kind of work.

The work done by a framework knitter at home, was on a smaller machine and they only worked on a single item at a time. The machines which were used in a workshop were much larger and heavier and meant 3 items could be worked at once. Setting the machines up to start with was the harder part of the job and as long as the worker kept an eye on everything, it would be more productive to work these machines, rather than the ones used at their home. Producing four dozen items a week, a worker would have to have paid at least 2s 3d frame rent for two frames, 2 shillings for seaming and 7 1/2d for the needles and 4d on candles per week, he also had to pay for oil to keep the machines in order and tools as well to help maintain these knitting machines. It left a family very little for food and clothing for themselves. It was not an easy life at all for a frame work knitter and his family.

Later on workshops began to appear in villages and the workers no longer worked from home , instead they worked together as many as 50 knitting machines would be housed in cramped conditions, the workers still had to rent the machines and the floor space, a machine near to the window cost more, but then they had to pay out less on candles. The workers still had to pay form the yarn, pay for any damage to a knitting machine, including needles which would often break as they were very fragile. Any break in the yarn could be mended, by the wives, if this was spotted in time and so help save a piece of work. Spoilt work, cost money, so attention was taken by a worker to maintain and look after the machines, in order to keep down their costs. These workshops were run by managers, who often lived ‘on site’ so as to keep an eye on everything. Their homes were a lot more comfortable than that of their workers, this can be seen in the photos in the Gallery.

Later on workshops began to appear in villages and the workers no longer worked from home , instead they worked together as many as 50 knitting machines would be housed in cramped conditions, the workers still had to rent the machines and the floor space, a machine near to the window cost more, but then they had to pay out less on candles. The workers still had to pay form the yarn, pay for any damage to a knitting machine, including needles which would often break as they were very fragile. Any break in the yarn could be mended, by the wives, if this was spotted in time and so help save a piece of work. Spoilt work, cost money, so attention was taken by a worker to maintain and look after the machines, in order to keep down their costs. These workshops were run by managers, who often lived ‘on site’ so as to keep an eye on everything. Their homes were a lot more comfortable than that of their workers, this can be see by viewing the photo’s in the Gallery section of this website.

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Below are some links which will tell you more about the history and work of a Framework Knitter:

http://lihs.org.uk/framework_knitting_film.html

http://www.nottsheritagegateway.org.uk/people/frameworkknitters.htm

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There are a couple of places in the East Midlands for you to visit if you are interested to seeing for yourself and learning more about the industry and maybe even have a go yourself like me.

20160611_142116
Sue Church working on a Circular Knitting Machine

http://www.frameworkknittersmuseum.org.uk/

http://www.wigstonframeworkknitters.org/

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In the Gallery section of this website, you can see some more of the photo’s I have took when I visited the Framework Knitters Museum in Ruddington, Nottinghamshire on a recent visit. I had a go myself on one of the Circular Knitting machines, a little like the French Knitting, many of us ladies would have had a go at as a child., although I found it quite therapeutic, I imagined having to do it for hours a day, wouldn’t have seemed that therapeutic.