Stocking frame

Knitting Nets and Stockings. Stocking-Loom

In the art of weaving, the woof is thrown or made to pass through the numerous threads of the warp 885 , and is retained by them; but in knitting there is only one thread, which is entwined in so ingenious a manner that it produces a tissue approaching near to cloth, both in its use and appearance, though it cannot be called cloth, because it is formed without warp and woof. I will not, however, quarrel in regard to names: the spider's web is produced by only one thread, but in a manner indeed which differs as much from weaving as it does from knitting; and it is not known with certainty whether Arachne found out the art of weaving cloth or of making nets 886.

There are two methods of knitting, essentially different from each other; the one employed in making nets, and the other in knitting stockings. In the former the twine is knotted into meshes by means of a knitting-needle; whereas in the knitting of stockings the meshes are produced without knots. Hence it may be readily comprehended why knit stockings can be so easily and so speedily un-knit, in order that the thread may be employed for new work; and why in nets this is impossible. The knots which prevent it render it on the other hand possible for nets to be cut or torn asunder, without destroying more meshes than those immediately exposed to the force applied. One may easily see also the cause why things knit in the same manner as stockings can be stretched without being torn, and, like elastic bodies, again contract as soon as the action of the distending force ceases. On this account no kind of cloth has yet been found fitter for gloves, stockings, garters and bandages. When not too closely knit, single parts can be extended without injury, as the threads in the neighbouring meshes give way, and the meshes become narrow or contracted. This, on account of the knots, is not possible in knitting of the first kind, which however produces the best nets, as the meshes suffer the water and mud, together with the fish that are too small, to pass through them, and retain only the fish that are larger. A captured fish, in order to escape, must tear to pieces, after each other, as many meshes as are equal to the circumference of its body. Were the net formed in the same manner as a stocking, a single mesh, if torn, would suffer it to pass through 887.

It is to be reckoned among the advantages of the present age, that a readiness in knitting is required as a part of female education in all ranks; and it may be easily acquired even by children, with the assistance of an expert and indulgent instructress. It is however astonishing that this art has not been banished by the refinement of modern manners, especially as so much of the time of young females is employed in the reading of novels and romances. But it is to be observed, that this occupation, which, with a little practice, becomes so easy that it may be called rather an amusement, does not interrupt discourse, distract the attention or check the powers of the imagination. It forms a ready resource when a vacuity occurs in conversation, or when a circumstance takes place which ought to be heard or seen, but not treated with too much seriousness: the prudent knitter then hears and sees what she does not wish to seem to hear or to see. Knitting does no injury either to the body or the mind, the latter of which suffers from romances. It occasions no prejudicial or disagreeable position, requires no straining of the eye-sight, and can be performed with as much convenience when standing or walking as when sitting. It may be interrupted without loss, and again resumed without trouble; and the whole apparatus for knitting, which is cheap, needs so little room, and is so light, that it can be kept and gracefully carried about in a basket, the beauty of which displays the expertness, or at any rate the taste, of the fair artist. Knitting belongs to the few useful occupations of old persons, who have not lost the use of their hands. Those who wish to reproach the fair sex for the time they waste in endeavouring to please the men, ought not to forget that the former know how to occupy those moments which the latter devote, not to labour, but to social enjoyment or pleasure, or which would be otherwise lost—the time in which the male sex are able to do nothing that is useful. No one, however, will seriously object this to the male sex, whose daily occupations tend so much to exhaust the spirits; but is it not to be regretted that those who, in consequence of their situation, perform properly no work, who are scarcely under the necessity of thinking, and who rather become corrupted through idleness, do not employ their vacant hours in knitting, in order to gain money? What I mean to say is, should not servants, soldiers, shepherds, and the male children of the peasants who are unfit for hard labour, learn to knit, that they might earn something for themselves and their families? A sale for knit articles, stockings, mitts, caps, nets and fine lace can never be wanting. My panegyric, however, on knitting is applicable, strictly speaking, to the second kind only, which surpasses the first in utility, but is a much more modern invention; for fishing and hunting were the oldest occupations, and mention of nets occurs in the earliest writings.

It is not improbable that the people who resided on the banks of rivers abundant in fish, endeavoured to catch them at first with baskets, such as those which most of the Indians know how to make, or with other vessels which suffered the water to run through them; but that in the course of time a piece of thin cloth was employed, and at a still later period, what was far more convenient, nets. Mention however of fishing and hunting nets occurs very often in the Scriptures; and in some passages it is clearly proved that we are to understand by them such as were knit. But I shall leave commentators to determine whether gins composed of ropes or cords 888  are not often meant where the translators have introduced nets. The former are certainly older than the latter; they were long used both in hunting and in war, and are still employed among some savage tribes who are not acquainted with fire-arms.

That nets, however, should be invented at an early period needs excite no wonder, for they have been found in modern times among very rude nations. Wafer 889  saw some among the American savages which were made of the bark of a tree; and the Greenlanders made some of the same kind of the hair of the whale's beard, and of the sinews of other animals. I shall omit here what has been said in regard to nets in the works of the ancients, and particularly in those which treat on fishing and hunting. The Latins say texere retia ; and Pliny calls the yarn or twine of which nets were made stamen ; yet I am inclined to believe, that both the Greeks and the Romans made their nets in the same manner as we do at present.

Weaving, properly so called, is out of the question; and it appears that these words were used in a very general sense, because there was then no term of art to denote knitting. At any rate, I cannot believe that the far more ingenious process by which our lace-weavers prepare the netted scarfs used by military officers was then known, as Braun seems to think 890. Meshes were called by the Latins maculæ and nodi ; but I as little understand what Pliny says, “retia succino nodantur,” as the supposed explanation of Hardouin, “retia nodos e succino habebant 891.” The author alludes here perhaps to some ornament added to those nets which were drawn round the boxes or seats of the senators. Some manuscripts read notantur : I should have preferred ornantur.

The art of making nets of fine yarn, silk, or cotton, by the process of knitting, and employing them as articles of dress or ornament, is not an invention of modern luxury. I remember to have seen in old churches retiform hangings, and on old dresses of ceremony borders or trimming of the same kind, which fashion seems alternately to have banished and recalled. That in the middle ages the mantles of the clergy had often coverings of silk made in the same manner as fishing-nets, has been proved by Du Cange 892. I suspect also that the transparent dresses used by the ladies, more than four hundred years ago, to cover those beauties which they still wished to be visible, were nets of this kind 893.

Far more ingenious and of much later invention is that art which was undoubtedly first employed in making stockings, and on that account called stocking-knitting. That the Romans and most of the ancient nations had no particular clothing for the lower part of the body, is so well known, that it is unnecessary for me to repeat the proofs. Their legs however did not suffer more from the cold than our hands when they are not covered by gloves, or than the feet of the Franciscans at present; and what is common is not indecent. It is well known that the northern nations first had hose or trowsers, which covered not only the legs but the thighs and loins; and it was not till a few centuries ago, that from this article of dress people began to make two; the upper part retained the old name, and the lower, that which covered the legs, was called in German strumpftruncus, which word Maler in his Dictionary explains by halbhosen, half-hose, and hosenstrumpf. The diminutive strümpfle  signifies, according to this author, hose that reach to the calf of the leg. The first stockings were of cloth, and made by the tailors; consequently they were not so commodious as our knit-stockings, which, for the reason already mentioned, become closely contracted, without pressing the foot or impeding a person in walking.

It is more than probable that the art of knitting stockings was first found out in the sixteenth century, but the time of the invention is doubtful; it is also uncertain to what people we are indebted for it, and the name of the inventor is entirely unknown. Savary appears to be the first person who hazarded the conjecture 894 , that this art is a Scottish invention, because the French stocking-knitters, when they became so numerous as to form a guild, made choice of St. Fiacre, a native of Scotland, to be their patron; and besides this, there is a tradition, that the first knit stockings were brought to France from that country. However this may be, it is certain that the first letter of foundation for this guild, named “la Communauté des Maitres Bonnetiers au Tricot,” is dated the 16th, or, as others say, the 26th of August 1527. St. Fiacre, I shall here remark, was the second son of Eugenius, who is said to have been king of Scotland in the beginning of the seventh century; he lived as a hermit at Meaux in France, and his name in the sacred calendar stands opposite to the 30th of August 895. It must however be acknowledged that Savary's conjecture rests only on a very slight foundation.

Somewhat more probable is an opinion, which has been long prevalent in England, and is supported by the testimony of respectable writers. Howell, in his History of the World, printed in 1680, relates that Henry VIII., who reigned from 1509 to 1547, and who was fond of show and magnificence, wore at first woollen stockings; till by a singular occurrence he received a pair of knit silk stockings from Spain. His son Edward VI., who succeeded him on the throne, obtained by means of a merchant named Thomas Gresham, a pair of long Spanish knit silk stockings; and this present was at that time highly prized. Queen Elizabeth, in the third year of her reign, that is in 1561, received by her silk-woman, named Montague, a pair of black silk knit stockings, and afterwards would not wear any other kind 896.

This information is confirmed by another account. It is related in Stow's Chronicle, that the earl of Pembroke was the first nobleman who wore worsted knit stockings. In the year 1564, William Rider, an apprentice of Master Thomas Burdet, having accidentally seen in the shop of an Italian merchant a pair of knit worsted stockings, procured from Mantua, and having borrowed them, made a pair exactly like them, and these were the first stockings knit in England of woollen yarn.

From this testimony, it has been hitherto believed in England that knit stockings were first made known there under Henry VIII.; that they were brought from Spain to that country; and that the invention belongs, in all probability, to the Spaniards. Were this really the case, one might conjecture that the first knit stockings known in England were of silk, though the imitations made by Rider were of wool. For under Henry VIII., Edward VI., and Elizabeth, silk stockings only are mentioned; and at that period silk, and not woollen articles, were imported from Italy and Spain. Did the invention belong to the Spaniards, I should be inclined to conjecture that these people obtained it from the Arabians, to whom we are indebted for many useful and ingenious arts. But at any rate the conjecture of Savary falls to the ground; for as the French had a stocking-knitters' guild as early as 1527, it is highly improbable that the English, forty years after, or about the year 1564, should have been unacquainted with the invention of their nearest neighbours, the Scots.

Some years ago, however, several learned men in England were led, by a singular circumstance, to collect information in regard to the antiquity of the art of knitting stockings. I here allude to the forgeries of Thomas Chatterton, who was born on the 20th of November 1752, and terminated his unfortunate life by suicide on the 24th of August 1770. This ingenious youth published some poems which he pretended were written by Thomas Rowley, who lived in the reign of Edward IV., that is about the year 1461. Many literary men denied the authenticity of these poems, though they possessed great beauty; proclaimed Chatterton to be a second Psalmanasar; and justified their opinion by the circumstance of knit stockings being mentioned in them. This they said was an anachronism, as the invention of knitting stockings, according to Howell and Stow, must be a century later than the supposed poet Rowley. Others, who supported the genuineness of these poems, endeavoured on that account to make the invention older, and collected information in regard to the history of it, from which I have made the following extract 897.

In the beginning of the sixteenth century the people of Scotland had breeches, in the proper sense of the word, and wore a kind of stockings; for Hector Boethius, who was professor at Aberdeen in 1497, relates that the Scots wore hose which reached only to the knee, consequently stockings made of linen or woollen, and breeches chiefly of hemp 898.

These particular articles of dress were usual at that time even in England; for in the year 1510 king Henry VIII. appeared, on a public occasion, with his attendants, in elegant dresses, in the description of which breeches and hose are particularly mentioned 899.

In the year 1530, the word knit, applied to stockings, must have been common in England; for at that time John Palsgrave, French master to the Princess Mary, daughter of Henry VIII., published a grammar, in which he stated that this word in French was applied to the making of nets as well as of caps and stockings.

From a household book of a noble family in the time of Henry VIII., we learn that knit stockings, both for grown-up people and children, were sold at so low a price that it cannot be supposed they were foreign articles 900.

In the reign of Edward VI. various kinds of knit articles must have been made in England, as appears by some regulations relating to trade and manufactures issued in 1552 901.

It nevertheless can be proved, that in the fifth year of the reign of queen Mary, that is in 1558, there were many who wore stockings of cloth; for Dr. Sands, who was afterwards archbishop of York, sent for a tailor to measure him for a pair of hose 902. This might serve to confirm the assertion of Stow, that stockings were not knit in England till six years after. But according to the testimonies already produced, this cannot be true. It is much more credible, that the clergy and old people, who are not ready to adopt new modes, wore some years later the old-fashioned stockings of cloth, which in all probability were similar to our gaiters.

It might be mentioned, as a further proof, if necessary, of breeches and stockings being considered, long before the reign of queen Elizabeth, as separate parts of dress, that in the catalogue then drawn up of the revenue of the bishop of St. Asaph, it is stated that he received as a perquisite, on the death of every clergyman who had a living, his best breeches and stockings 903.

About 1577, that is ten years after the period of the invention as given by Stow, knitting must have been common throughout all England, and practised even in villages. The bark of the alder was used by the wives of the peasants for dyeing the stockings which they had knitted 904.

According to the well-known poet George Gascoigne 905 , the greatest ornaments in dress, about the year 1576, were knit silk stockings and Spanish leather shoes.

About 1579, and not 1570 as stated in the Gentleman's Magazine, when queen Elizabeth was at Norwich, several female children appeared before her, some of whom were spinning worsted yarn, and others knitting worsted yarn hose 906.

The art of knitting stockings would be much older in Germany than in France or in England; and Chatterton, at any rate, would be freed from the charge of committing an anachronism, were it true, as Micrælius wrote in the year 1639, that the consort of the duke of Pomerania, who died in 1417, when she could no longer sew or embroider amused herself with knitting 907. But it is very probable that this good man committed an anachronism, like Chatterton; and, in order to show the industry of the duchess, named those occupations which were usual in his own time.

In Germany, as far as I know at present, stocking-knitters occur for the first time about the middle of the sixteenth century, under the name of hosenstricker, a term which in Lower Saxony is still not uncommon. At Hamburg the people say hasenknütter, and use the word hase  for stockings. In Berlin there were stocking-knitters about the year 1590. In many countries they had a particular guild; and this is the case at present in the duchy of Wirtemberg, where they are entirely different from those who work at the loom, and who are called stocking-weavers. Each have their own regulations, in which it is ordered that the stocking-knitters shall wear no articles wove, that is knit, in a loom, and the stocking-weavers no articles knit with the hand. That knitting however may be left free, as an occasional occupation to every one, the following words are inserted in the regulations of the stocking-knitters:—“Poor people, who through want of other means procure a subsistence by knitting stockings, and those who at the gates keep watch for themselves or others, and at the same time knit, shall be at liberty to wear whatever they make with their own hands.”

The German terms of art which relate to knitting are older than the art itself, for they are all borrowed from the making of nets; knüttenknüteisenknütholzknütspanstricken  and stricknadel, and also maschen, are all terms which occur in the fishing-regulations of Brandenburg for the year 1574, and no doubt earlier. The tricoter  of the French had the same origin as the German word stricken Trica  was a lock of hair, a noose; and tricare  signified to entangle, and deceive. Lacer  is derived from laqs, a rope, a noose; and this comes from laqueus. The English word stocking  is derived from stocktruncus, the trunk of a tree, a word still retained by the German foresters, who in the Low German speak of rooting out stocks.

Silk stockings, however, in consequence of their high price, were for a long time used only on very grand occasions. Henry II., king of France, wore such stockings for the first time at the marriage of his sister with the duke of Savoy in 1559 908. In the reign of Henry III., who ascended the throne in 1575, the consort of Geoffroy Camus de Pontcarre, who held a high office in the state, would not wear silk stockings given to her by a nurse, who lived at court, as a Christmas present, because she considered them to be too gay. In the year 1569, when the privy-counsellor Barthold von Mandelsloh, who had been envoy to many diets and courts, appeared on a week-day at court with silk stockings which he had brought from Italy, the margrave John of Custrin said to him, “Barthold, I have silk stockings also; but I wear them only on Sundays and holidays.” The celebrated Leonard Thurneisser, however, who lived at the court of Brandenburg about the end of the sixteenth century, wore silk stockings daily, and in general dressed very magnificently in silk and velvet.

Knitting with wires, the method of which I have hitherto spoken, has always appeared to me so ingenious, that I conceived the inventor of it must have had a pattern to serve as a guide. This pattern I think I have discovered. Wire-workers, and other artists who used wire, exercised their ingenuity some centuries ago, more than at present, in making wire-screens in various ways; and it must be confessed that many of them produced articles, which even at present, though not suited to the modern taste, deserve admiration. Works of this kind may still be found in old churches. The art of making them has often been considered as too difficult for human hands; and hence popular tradition has asserted that the artists were assisted by the devil. A tale of this kind is still related, though no longer believed, to those whose curiosity induces them to view the wire-screen which surrounds the baptismal font in St. Mary's church at Wismar, and which is plaited or wove in so ingenious a manner, as if with ropes, that neither the beginning nor end of the wires can be observed. A similar legend is told to strangers when shown the screen around the pulpit in the cathedral of Lubec, which, according to the inscription, was made in 1572. It is not improbable that, among works of this kind, some may be found made with meshes, as if formed by knitting. Our pin-makers can construct some much more ingenious. That I might be better able in my technological lectures to convey to my pupils an idea of knitting, I made a drawing on the subject, and caused a pin-maker to weave for me a small screen of brass wire. This work is easy, because it is executed in a frame of strong but pliable wire. I suspect therefore that some one first tried to make an imitation of such a wire-net with yarn, and in one expanded piece, for which only two or three small sticks would be necessary. Instead of having a frame, the inventor, it is probable, fastened to his clothes the stick on which the meshes were made, or on which he knitted; but afterwards employed a sheath to perform that service. Thus, most of the Wirtemberg stocking-knitters, at present, knit with two wires and a sheath. Hence their stockings, like those wove in the stocking-loom, are sewed or have a seam behind.

Among the master-pieces of the Wirtemberg stocking-knitters, a carpet of beautiful flower-work and figures is mentioned in their regulations. It is milled, and when spread out measures three ells in length and one and a half in breadth. It is probable that some person, by repeated trials, found out the method of knitting in a circular form; but for this purpose several wires would be necessary. In order to render this improved art of knitting similar to the old method, the meshes were so arranged that the stockings seemed to have a seam, for which however there was no occasion. The sheath, which was fastened to the left side, was long retained by our knitters; but as it retarded the work, and as it was necessary to keep the body in an uneasy posture, injurious to the growth of young and industrious persons, means were devised to dispense with it and to knit with much less restraint. In this manner the art was brought to its present perfection; and it must excite no small astonishment when it is considered that it was invented all at once, and by one person.

The invention of the stocking-loom is worthy of more admiration, when one reflects that it was not a matter of accident, like most of the great discoveries, but the result of talents and genius. It is a machine exceedingly complex, consisting of two thousand parts, which, in a moment almost, can make two hundred meshes of loops, without requiring much skill or labour in the workman. There are few descriptions of this machine; and those published do not fully answer the purpose 909. But my object is merely the question, Who was the inventor, in what country, and at what time did he live? and I can say, that after the most diligent research, it does not appear subject to any doubt, as some have hitherto believed.

Under the administration of Cromwell, the stocking-knitters of London presented a petition, in which they requested permission to establish a guild. In this petition they gave to the Protector an account of the rise, progress, and importance of their art or trade; and there can be no doubt that this well-written document contains the oldest authentic information in regard to this invention, which was then scarcely fifty years old. Every thing must then have been fresh in the memory of those by whom it was drawn up; every circumstance could easily be examined; and the petitioners must have been sensible that their misrepresentations, for which however they had no reason, could easily be contradicted. However unimportant my research may appear, it gave me much pleasure to find a copy of this petition in Deering's Account of Nottingham, already mentioned, in which the author has collected many authentic circumstances from the records of that town, where the loom was first employed and enriched many families, and whence the use of it was spread all over England and Europe 910.

From these it appears that the real inventor was William Lee, whose name in the petition is written Lea, a native of Woodborough, in Nottinghamshire, a village about seven miles distant from the town of Nottingham. He was heir to a considerable freehold estate, and a graduate of St. John's College, Cambridge. It is reported, that being enamoured of a young country-girl, who during his visits paid more attention to her work, which was knitting, than to her lover and his proposals, he endeavoured to find out a machine which might facilitate and forward the operation of knitting, and by these means afford more leisure to the object of his affection to converse with him. Love indeed is fertile in inventions, and gave rise, it is said, to the art of painting; but a machine so complex in its parts and so wonderful in its effects, would seem to require longer and quieter reflection, more judgement, and more time and patience, than can be expected in a lover. But even if the cause should appear problematical, there can be no doubt in regard to the inventor, whom most of the English writers positively assert to have been William Lee.

Aaron Hill seems to make the stocking-loom younger, and relates the circumstance in the following manner. A student of Oxford was so imprudent as to marry at an early period, without money and without income. His young wife, however, was able to procure the necessaries of life by knitting; but as the natural consequences of love, an increase of family, was likely to render this soon insufficient, the husband invented a machine by which knitting could be performed in a speedier and more profitable manner. Having thus completed a stocking-loom, he became by its means a man of considerable wealth 911. But Hill, in his account, gives neither names, date, nor proofs; and as he seems to have formed it from an imperfect remembrance of what he had heard or read in regard to Lee, it is not worthy of further examination.

Deering says expressly, that Lee made the first loom in the year 1589; and this account has been adopted by Anderson and most of the English writers. In the stocking-weavers' hall, at London, is an old painting, in which Lee is represented pointing out his loom to a female knitter, who is standing near him; and below it is seen an inscription with the date 1589, which was the year of the invention 912. Other accounts make it somewhat later. Thus Howell, after relating that Queen Elizabeth obtained the first stockings in 1561, says that thirty-nine years after the loom was invented by Lee, in which case the period would be 1600 913. In the petition of the stocking-knitters it is stated, that the loom, at that time, had been found out about fifty years. It is to be regretted that this document has no date; but as Cromwell reigned from 1653 to 1658, the invention would fall in the beginning of the seventeenth century. It is more probable, however, that it belongs to the end of the sixteenth.

Lee instructed his brother James in the use of the loom, and took apprentices and assistants, with whom he carried on business for some years at Calverton, a village five miles distant from Nottingham. On this account, Calverton has by some been considered as his birth-place. He showed his work to Queen Elizabeth, who died in 1603, and requested from that princess some support or remuneration; but he obtained neither, and was impeded rather than assisted in his undertaking. Under these circumstances, Lee accepted an invitation from Henry IV. king of France, who had heard of this invention, and promised to give a handsome reward to the author of it. He therefore carried nine journeymen and several looms to Rouen in Normandy, where he worked with great approbation; but the king being assassinated, and internal commotions having taken place, Lee fell into great distress, and died soon after at Paris. Two only of his people remained in France, one of whom was still alive when the before-mentioned petition was presented to Cromwell. Seven of them returned to England; and these, with a person named Aston, who at first was a miller at Thoroton, the place of his birth 914 , but afterwards an apprentice of Lee, by whom he had been left behind in England, where he made some improvements in the loom, laid the foundation of the stocking-manufactory in that country. The number of masters increased there in the course of fifty years so much, that it was found necessary to unite them into one guild; for which Cromwell, however, in consequence of reasons not known, refused the proper sanction; but in 1663 they received letters patent, which gave them certain privileges to the extent of ten miles round London.

In the year 1614, the Venetian ambassador, Antonio Correr, persuaded an apprentice, Henry Mead, by the promise of five hundred pounds sterling, to go with a loom to Venice for a stated time, and to teach there the use of it. Mead met with a favourable reception in that city, and was much admired; but the loom becoming deranged, and no person at Venice being able to repair it, when the time of his agreement was expired, he returned to England. The Venetians had not resolution enough to continue the attempt; and sent the damaged loom, together with some bad imitations of it, to London, where they were sold for a mere trifle. Such is the account given in the petition before-mentioned.

Zano, however, an Italian writer 915 , asserts, on the authority of information preserved in manuscript among family documents, that Correr carried two stocking-weavers with looms to Venice; that he immediately placed under them four apprentices, and when they went back to England sent with them a boy, who returned to Venice well-instructed in the art, and who continued to carry on business there with great success. Giambattista Carli of Gemona, a smith who worked in steel, saw the loom at Venice, which had been made after the model of those brought from England and sold to Francesco Alpruni of Udina. In a short time a great many stockings were manufactured there, and sent for sale, chiefly to Gradisca in Austria. But, in consequence of the poverty of the Venetian stocking-knitters, an order was issued that Carli should make no more looms; and this productive branch of business at Udina was so much deranged, that the masters removed with their looms to Gradisca, where the inhabitants of Udina were obliged to purchase such stockings as they had occasion to use.

Some years after the stocking-loom had been introduced at Venice, Abraham Jones, who understood stocking-weaving and the construction of the loom, though never regularly taught, went with some assistants to Amsterdam, where he worked on his own account two or three years, till he and his people were carried off by a contagious disease. The looms, because no one could use them, were sent to London and sold for a low price. In the petition to Cromwell the masters state, with great satisfaction, that in this manner the trade had remained in England; and, that it may be exclusively retained in their native country, they wish for the establishment of a privileged company.

It appears to me therefore proved beyond all doubt, that the stocking-loom was invented by William Lee, an Englishman, about the end of the sixteenth century; and this is admitted by some French writers, such as Voltaire 916  and the editor of the first Encyclopédie, whom the author of the Encyclopédie Méthodique however finds fault with. Other French writers, who are the more numerous party, wish to ascribe the honour of this invention to one of their own countrymen; but the proofs they bring are so weak that they scarcely deserve notice. Savary perhaps is the first person who publicly ventured to support this instance of Gallic vanity; at any rate he is quoted by the more modern writers as their authority when they wish to contradict the English.

According to his account, a Frenchman, of whom however he knows nothing further, invented the stocking-loom; but not being able to obtain the exclusive privilege of using it in his own country, went with it to England. The utility of it being soon discovered there, it was forbidden, under pain of death, to carry a loom or a model of it out of the kingdom. But another Frenchman, respecting whom he is equally ignorant, having seen the loom, the form of it made so deep an impression on his memory, that on his return he copied it exactly; and from this loom all the others used in France and Holland were constructed. Savary adds, did the invention belong to the English, who are accustomed to pay due honour to those who discover useful things, they undoubtedly could tell the name of the inventor, which however they are not able to do. It is very strange that this should be written by a Frenchman, who himself did not know the name of the French inventor, or of the person who carried back the invention. No order to prevent the exportation of the stocking-loom was issued in England so early, else it would certainly have been mentioned in the petition presented to Cromwell. It was not till the eighth year of the reign of William III., that is 1696, when looms were everywhere common, that the exportation of them was forbidden; probably because the best were made in England, and it was wished that the gradual improvement of them should be kept secret. The penalty also was not death, but a fine and confiscation of the looms.

Some have endeavoured to give an air of probability to this assertion of Savary, by the relation of an apothecary in the Hotel-Dieu at Paris. This person is said to have declared that the inventor was a journeyman locksmith of Lower Normandy, who gave a pair of silk stockings, his own workmanship, to Colbert, in order that they might be presented to Louis XIV.; but as the marchands bonetiers, who dealt in articles knit according to the old manner, caused several loops of these stockings to be cut by some of the servants at court, whom they had bribed for that purpose, they did not meet with approbation. The inventor was so hurt by this disappointment, that he sold the loom to an Englishman, and died an old man in the Hotel-Dieu, where the apothecary became acquainted with him. It was necessary to expose the lives of many workmen, and even of some men of learning, in order to bring back a loom to France. Romè de la Platière adds, that he heard at Nimes, that in the time of Colbert a person of that place, named Cavellier, carried the first loom to France; and that, in the course of fifty years, the number of the looms in that town and neighbourhood increased to some thousands. It appears much more certain that the stocking manufactory, as Savary asserts, was established at the castle of Madrid in the Bois Boulogne near Paris, in the year 1656, under the direction of John Hindret.

I do not know at what time the first loom was brought to Germany; but it is certain that this branch of manufacture was spread chiefly by the French refugees who sought shelter in that country after the revocation of the edict of Nantes. Winkelmann says expressly, that they carried the first looms to Hesse. This is not at all improbable, because our stocking manufacturers give French names to every part of their looms, as well as to their different kinds of work. Becher boasts of having introduced the loom at Vienna, and of having first constructed looms of wood. At present many wooden ones are made at Obernhau in the Erzgebürge, and sold at the rate of twenty-eight dollars; whereas iron ones, of the most inferior kind, are sold in Vogtland for sixty or seventy.

[In 1663 a charter was granted by Charles II. to the Frame-work Knitters' Society of London (stocking-makers), which had been refused to them a few years before by Oliver Cromwell. Six years afterwards the number of stocking-frames in England amounted to 700, employing 1200 workmen, three-fifths of whom made silk stockings, and the others worsted; for cotton was not then ranked among English manufactures. By 1714 the number of frames had increased to 8000 or 9000. Some years after this, the Frame-work Knitters' Company attempted to control both the manufacture itself, and the making and selling of the stockings; but the project failed. By the year 1753 the number of frames in England was 14,000. In 1758 a machine for making ribbed stockings was patented by Mr. Strutt of Belper.

In 1838 stocking-frames with a rotatory action, and worked by steam, were successfully brought into use in Nottingham. Of the present extent and value of the hosiery manufacture, perhaps the best estimate is that made a few years ago by Mr. Felkin of Nottingham. This gentleman calculates the value of cotton hosiery annually made at £880,000, that of worsted at £870,000, and that of silk at £241,000. He estimates the number of stockings annually manufactured at 3,510,000 dozens; and in the production of these there are used 4,584,000 lbs. of raw cotton, value £153,000; 140,000 lbs. of raw silk, value £91,000; and 6,318,000 lbs. of English wool, value £316,000; making the total value of the materials £560,000, which are ultimately converted into the exchangeable value of £1,991,000. The total number of persons employed is 73,000.]


885  [It is scarcely necessary to inform the reader that the warp  consists of the longitudinal  threads of a woven fabric, which are crossed by the transverse  threads or woof.]

886  Ovidii Metamorph. vi. 5–145. Plin. Hist. Nat. vii. 56.

887  An Englishman, named J. W. Boswel, invented a machine on which sixty-eight meshes, with perfect knots, could be knit at the same time: it could be adapted also to fine works, and to lace. A description of it may be seen in the Transactions of the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, vol. xiv.

888  Many commentators on the Greek and Roman writers have fallen into mistakes respecting these noose-ropes, because they were not acquainted with the nature of them. Their use among the Parthians is confirmed by Suidas, under the word σειραὶ, p. 303; where he says that on that account they were called σειροφόροι. Josephus asserts that they were employed by the Alani, and relates that Tiridates would have been caught in this manner, had he not quickly cut to pieces the rope. Under the same head may be comprehended the retiarii and laquearii, in the bloody spectacles of the Romans, whose method of fighting is said to have been found out by Pittacus. See Diogen. Laert. i. 74. To this subject belong the snares of the devil, pestilence, and death, in the Scriptures, and particularly in Psalm xviii. ver. 5. The laquei mortis  of Horace, Carm. iii. 24, 8, were hence to be explained, and not by a Hebraism, as some of the old commentators have imagined. In the ordeals of the ancient Germans, when a man was obliged to combat with a woman, the latter had a rope with a noose, which she threw over her antagonist, who stood in a pit, in order that she might more easily overcome him. That such ropes are still employed among various nations is proved by Vancouver. In Hungary the wild horses at present are said to be caught by ropes of this kind.

889  Wafer's Voyage. Anderson's Iceland. The author says that the beards are cut into slips; but these slips were fish-bone, which could be made into baskets but not into nets. He certainly meant the hair on the beard, which in Holland is used for wigs.

890  De Vest. Sac. Hebr. p. 100.

891  Hist. Nat. lib. xxxvii. cap. 3.

892  Rete, id est ornamentum sericum ad instar retis contextum.—Acta S. Deodati, tom. iii. Junii, p. 871.

893  In the Limpurg Chronicle, which may be found in Von Hontheim, Hist. Trevirensis, vol. ii. p. 1084, is the following passage: “The ladies wore new weite hauptfinstern, so that the men almost saw their breasts;” and Moser, who quotes this passage in his Phantasien, conjectures that the hauptfinstern  might approach near to lace. I never met with the word anywhere else; but Frisch, in his Dictionary, says, “Vinster  in a Vocabularium of the year 1492 is explained by the words dratschudrat, thread, coarse thread.” May it not be the word fenster, a window? And in that case may it not allude to the wide meshes? Fenestratum  meant formerly, perforated or reticulated; and this signification seems applicable to those shoes mentioned by Du Cange under the name of calcei fenestrati. At any rate it is certain that the article denoted by hauptfinstern  belonged to those dresses mentioned by Seneca in his treatise De Beneficiis, 59. Pliny says that such dresses were worn, “ut in publico matrona transluceat.”

894  Dict. de Commerce. Copenh. 1759, fol. i. pp. 388, 576.

895  Gentleman's Magazine, vol. liii. 1783, p. 38. In the Heiligen Lexicon St. Fiacre is improperly called the son of an Irishman of distinction.

896  Howell, in speaking of the trade in the oldest times, says, p. 222, “Silk is now grown nigh as common as wool, and become the cloathing of those in the kitchin as well as the court; we wear it not onely on our backs, but of late years on our legs and feet, and tread on that which formerly was of the same value with gold itself. Yet that magnificent and expensive prince, Henry VIII., wore ordinarly cloth-hose, except there came from Spain, by great chance, a pair of silk stockins. K. Edward, his son, was presented with a pair of long Spanish silk stockins by Thomas Gresham, his merchant, and the present was taken much notice of. Queen Elizabeth in the third year of her reign was presented by Mrs. Montague, her silk-woman, with a pair of black knit silk stockins, and thenceforth she never wore cloth any more.”

897  The lines which allude to this subject are in the tragedy of Ella:—

“She sayde, as herr whytte hondes whyte hosen were knyttinge,
Whatte pleasure ytt ys to be married!”

898  In his Description of Scotland, according to the old translation, in Hollingshed, “Their hosen were shapen also of linnen or woolen, which never came higher than their knees; their breeches were for the most part of hempe.”

899  “The king and some of the gentlemen had the upper parts of their hosen, which was of blue and crimson, powdered with castels and sheafes of arrows of fine ducket gold, and the nether parts of scarlet, powdered with timbrels of fine,” &c.... There is reason however to suppose that the upper and nether parts of the hose were separate pieces, as they were of different colours. This description stands in the third volume of Hollingshed's Chronicles, p. 807, where it is said, speaking of another festival, “The garments of six of them were of strange fashion, with also strange cuts, everie cut knit  with points of fine gold, and tassels of the same, their hosen cut in and tied likewise.” What the word knit  here signifies might perhaps be discovered if we had an English Journal of Luxury and Fashions for the sixteenth century.

900  Gentleman's Magazine, 1782, vol. lii. p. 229. From an authentic and curious household book kept during the life of Sir Tho. L'Estrange, Knt. of Hunstanton in Norfolk, by his lady Ann, daughter of the lord Vaux, are the following entries:—

1533. 25 H. 8. 7 Sept.Peyd for 4 peyr of knytt hose VIII  s.
1538. 30 H. 8. 3 Oct......... two peyr of knytt hose I  s.

It is to be observed, that the first-mentioned were for Sir Thomas and the latter for his children.

901  The act made on this occasion is not to be found in any of the old or new editions of the Statutes at Large. It is omitted in that published at London, 1735, fol. ii. p. 63, because it was afterwards annulled. Smith, in Memoirs of Wool, Lond. 1747, 8vo, i. p. 89, says it was never printed; but it is to be found in a collection of the acts of king Edward VI., printed by Richard Grafton, 1552, fol. The following passage from this collection, which is so scarce even in England that it is not named in Ames's Typographical Antiquities, is given in the Gentleman's Magazine, vol. liii. part 1, p. 127:—“In this acte limitinge the tymes for buieing and sellyng of wolles, mention is made of chamblettes, wolstende, saies, stamine, knitte hoseknitte peticotesknitte gloves,knitte slieves, hattes, coives, cappes, arrasse, tapissery, coverlettes, girdles, or any other thing used to be made of woolle.”

902  This account is to be found in Hollingshed's Chronicles. “Dr. Sands at his going to bed in Hurleston's house, had a paire of hose newlie made, that were too long for him. For while he was in the Tower, a tailor was admitted to make him a pair of hose. One came in to him whose name was Beniamin, dwelling in Birchin-lane; he might not speak to him or come to him to take measure of him, but onelie to look upon his leg; he made the hose, and they were two inches too long. These hose he praied the good wife of the house to send to some tailor to cut two inches shorter. The wife required the boy of the house to carrie them to the next tailor, which was Beniamin that made them. The boy required him to cut the hose. He said I am not the maister's tailor. Saith the boy, because ye are our next neighbour, and my maister's tailor dwelleth far off, j come to you. Beniamin took the hose and looked upon them, he took his handle work in hand, and said, these are not thy maister's hose, but Dr. Sands, them j made in the Tower.”

903  “Item, his best coat, jerkin, doublet and breeches. Item, his hose or nether stockings, shoes and garters.”—Survey of the Cathedral of St. Asaph, by Browne Willis, 1720, 8vo.

904  Hollingshed's Chronicle, 1577, p. 213.

905  In his satyre called The Steel of Glass:—“In silk knitt hose, and Spanish leather shoes.”

906  In Hollingshed, third part, p. 1290:—“Upon the stage there stood at the one end eight small women children, spinning worsted yarne, and at the other as manie knitting of worsted yarn hose.”

907  Buch des Alten Pommerlandes, 1639, 4to, p. 388:—“Duke Bogislaus VIII. suffered himself at length to be overcome by love, and married Sophia, daughter of Procopius margrave of Moravia, who was a very prudent and moderate lady. In her old age, when her sight became bad, so that she was incapable of sewing or embroidering, she never put the knitting-needle out of her hands, as is written in our chronicles. The rhymes which she always had in her mouth are remarkable:—

Nicht beten, gern spatzieren gehn,
Oft im Fenster und vorm Spiegel stehn,
Viel geredet, und wenig gethan,
Mein Kind, da ist nichts Fettes an.

‘Never to pray; to be fond of walking; to stand often at the window and before the looking-glass; to talk much and do little; is not, my child, the way to be rich.'”

908  Mezeray, where he speaks of the silk manufactories under Henry IV.

909  The first description of the stocking-loom illustrated by figures, with which I am acquainted, is in Deering's Nottingham, 1751, 4to, but it is very imperfect. A much better is to be found in the second volume of the Encyclopédie, printed at Paris, 1751, fol. p. 94–113. The figures are in the first volume of the second part of the Planches, and make eleven plates, eight of which are full sheets. [The reader will also find a very good description of the stocking-loom illustrated with woodcuts in Ure's Dictionary, art. Hosiery.]

910  The following passage occurs in the petition, p. 302: “Which trade is properly stiled framework-knitting, because it is direct and absolute knit-work in the stitches thereof, nothing different therein from the common way of knitting (not much more antiently for publick use practised in this nation than this), but only in the numbers of needles, at an instant working in this, more than in the other by an hundred for one, set in an engine or frame composed of above 2000 pieces of smith, joiners, and turners work, after so artificial and exact a manner, that, by the judgement of all beholders, it far excels in the ingenuity, curiosity, and subtility of the invention and contexture, all other frames or instruments of manufacture in use in any known part of the world.”

911  This account is given by Aaron Hill in his Rise and Progress of the Beech-oil Invention, 1715, 8vo.

912  The inscription may be found in Seymour's Survey of London, 1733, fol. vol. i. p. 603: “In the year 1589 the ingenious William Lee, Master of Arts of St. John's College, Cambridge, devised this profitable art for stockings (but being despised went to France) yet of iron to himself, but to us and others of gold; in memory of whom this is here painted.”

913  In his History of the World, already quoted, p. 171: “Nine and thirty years after was invented the weaving of silk stockings, westcoats, and divers other things, by engines, or steel looms, by William Lee, Master of Arts of St. John's College in Cambridge, a native of Nottingham, who taught the art in England and France, as his servants in Spain, Venice, and Ireland; and his device so well took, that now in London his artificers are become a company, having an hall and a master, like as other societies.”

914  Of this Aston the following account is to be found in Thoroton's Nottinghamshire, 1677, fol. p. 297: “At Calverton was born William Lee, Master of Arts in Cambridge, and heir to a pretty freehold here; who seeing a woman knit, invented a loom to knit, in which he or his brother James performed and exercised before Queen Elizabeth, and leaving it to ... Aston his apprentice, went beyond the seas, and was thereby esteemed the author of that ingenious engine, wherewith they now weave silk and other stockings. This ... Aston added something to his master's invention; he was some time a miller at Thoroton, nigh which place he was born.”

915  Dell' Agricoltura, dell' Arti, e del Commercio. Ven. 1763, 8vo.

916  Le Siècle de Louis XIV.