Knitting machines and the industrial revolution
The forerunner to the knitting machines of today was invented by Englishman, William Lee of Nottinghamshire who lived between the mid 1500s and the early 1600s.
William Lee, pioneer or the illustrated knitting frame.
Knitting had become a cottage industry through Tudor times to the industrial revolution, where Britons, mostly men, knitted in droves to service the wealthy classes need for knitwear.
The industrial revolution changed
and much more, as Britain, predominantly England, led the world in the mechanisation of many manual tasks.
Beginning with the textile industry in Lancashire, Yorkshire and Scotland, more uniform spinning techniques for wool and cotton led to better quality and faster production.
The knitting girl by William Adolphe Bouguerearu, 1869
The new knitting machines, much modified by William Cotton, vastly improved both the quality and quantity of knitwear, and simultaneously lowered their cost. However, these benefits made hand knitting uncompetitive on a mass scale.
Nottingham Manufacturing Company, Station Street, Nottingham
The Modern History Sourcebook offers us a petition from Leeds woollen workers which, in 1786 outlined the plight of labourers confronted by the new ‘scribbling machines’ or woollen mills:
“The number of Scribbling-Machines extending about seventeen miles south-west of LEEDS, exceed all belief, being no less than one hundred and seventy! and as each machine will do as much work in twelve hours, as ten men can in that time do by hand, (speaking within bounds) and they working night-and day, one machine will do as much work in one day as would otherwise employ twenty men”.
From a prized and economically significant skill, knitting slowly declined over about a century. It would take two monumental human conflicts, World War I and II to revive its status from a hobby to an important facet of national life.
During the wars, all of industry, including the knitting machine factories were focused on the war effort. So the need to supply both the fighting soldiers and displaced civilians and refugees, especially children with blankets and warm knitwear lead to a massive upsurge in knitting.
We want to garner this same urgent effort to supply warmth to the children of the world who live in poverty today.
Modern History Sourcebook, The Oxford Companion to British History, Penguin Encyclopedia, Suite 101.com, Picture of refugee children: antiquepatternlibrary.com, Knitting History: Early Origins of Knitting (http://www.apparelsearch.com/Definitions/Fabric/Knitting_history.htm), Knitting Together (www.Knittingtogether.org, History of Knitting (http://www.geocities.com/invtex/knitwear/history.htm)