hosiery trade

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hosiery trade. The trade had its origins in antiquity and remained a handicraft industry until the 16th cent. when William Lee, a Nottinghamshire clergyman, invented the framework-knitting machine. Many regions of the British Isles had maintained or developed the making of specialized hand-knitted wear, not just for family use but for sale elsewhere. The widespread use of frames had developed by the later 17th cent. making use of long staple wool yarns. The east midland counties of Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire became centres for framework-knitting during the 18th cent. The processes took place in the homes of the workers. Working with frames required light as well as space and so houses were built with large windows in the upper storey. Specialized products included stockings, gloves, caps, and many other types of garment. To a considerable extent, then as now, the prosperity of the industry was determined by the dictates of fashion.

Steam-powered frames were developed only in the second half of the 19th cent., accompanied by other inventions such as William Cotton's patents of 1864 which made possible the knitting of fully fashioned garments. The industry still plays a vital role in the economy of the east midlands, producing a great diversity of textiles. The sophistication of modern machines includes the use of computers to design and control production, superseding Jacquard controls. An important innovation of the 1970s was the lock-stitch, invented by Gordon Wray, which enabled new ways of processing and using textiles.

Until the 19th cent. wool fibres dominated knitting but other textile fibres came into use. In the later 20th cent. not only did man-made fibres for garments become common, but industrial uses of knitting processes utilized other materials such as fibre glass.

It was usual practice for the finishing trades of the bleachers and dyers to develop alongside hosiery. Similarly suppliers of frames and needles became established in the same geographical areas.

Ian John Ernest Keil