Fully Fashioned Stockings
In the year 1589 a man studied the way that a hand-knitter converted yarn into fabric for stockings, using knitting needles.
After close observation he ventured to ask "Why do you only make one stitch at each movement, is it not possible to knit a complete row in one movement, it would be so much quicker?" The lady told him it was not possible. The man was the Rev. William Lee, a curate at Calverton in Nottinghamshire. He would have been familiar with a weaver's loom, where many ends of yarn are made into woven material. Local craftsmen, skilled in fashioning metals and wood, helped Lee to build the world's first knitting frame. I believe that it was from a mill at Makeney, some twenty miles from Calverton that they obtained the iron wire to shape Lee's bearded needles.
The drawings of Lee's 1589 frame shown here have a remarkable similarity to the Atkins frame, made in 1740. The basic frame was improved in many ways, but not until the Cotton's Patent frame was it possible to mass-produce fully fashioned stockings. William Cotton of Loughborough had, by 1864, built the frame that was to be known in many lands and languages, and to be copied by machine buildings in Europe and America.
In the Cotton's Patent, the needles were placed vertically, not horizontally as previously, widening and narrowing was automatic, by rotary power. The right to use these frames was first vested in the Nottingham Manufacturing Company and Messrs. I. & R. Morley. The first frames to be released to the trade by these controlling companies were bought by Atkins and installed in their factory. Mr.C.H.Aldridge of Sketchley Hall, Burbage was the Chairman of William Cotton Limited and had married Margaret, a daughter of John Atkins, one of the five Atkins Brothers.
The first American frames purchased by Atkins were two 45 gauge 26-at-once Readings.
During the 1930-1945 war no frames could be imported, thus it was that Atkins in 1946 had frames of the following gauges :30, 33, 39, 42 and 45, to start to knit the new (to Britain) yarn, Nylon.
In 1946 Germany had no capacity for knitting or frame building. By contrast in America development and production had continued and there during 1945 an amazing 1368 multi-section 39 and 42 gauge frames had been declared obsolete and scrapped.
In 1949 the total production of fully-fashioned stockings in America exceed 45 million dozen pairs of which 98.5% were nylon, 46% were 51 gauge or finer.
In 1950 the comparative figures were:
In Britain - 96 factories were working 42,339 knitting heads
In America - 749 factories had 291,998 knitting heads
In Germany the fully fashioned industry re-started from nothing, the pre-war centre of Chemnitz was in the hands of the Russians, but by 1960 the industry was vibrant again, using some frames from America supplied free under the Marshall Aid plan, but mainly with new frames built by names familiar to us, including Kalio, Boehvingar and Schubert Saltzer.
Fashion in the form of the mini-skirt killed the trade worldwide, just as an amazing frame was ready. It was 60 gauge, had 40 sections with motorized cutters, shock absorbers for the shogging movement, the work was collected and deposited at the end of the frame by conveyor, automatic removal and repositioning of the welt rods, a top speed of 117 courses per minute. This gave a set 20 pairs every 28 minutes.
It was demonstrated that one knitter could work four of these frames, requiring assistance only with yarn.