The sight of a woman knitting was sufficient to strike the spark of inventive genius in Lee, and from his first hand-frame, framework knitting came into being in 1589. Lee spent three years in the perfecting of his frame; he found out that by re­moving loops from the outside selvedges to the next needles inwards, the knitted web could be narrowed, and by the reverse process, widened. By these two methods, fabric could be made shaped to the leg... so fully-fashioned stockings developed in England.

Queen Elizabeth, in whose reign this occurred, refused Lee’s request for a patent. Not only was she cautious in that she did not wish to interfere with the domestic art of knitting, but she thought the danger of a mechanical age was that it would create unemployment, also that Lee’s knitting machine would put hand-hosiery knitters out of employment. Also, at that time the Lee machine would not knit sufficient loops to the inch to permit the making of fine silk stockings, which she preferred. Later, Lee accepted Queen Elizabeth’s challenge, and in 1598 he produced a machine which would knit fine silk, Queen Elizabeth accepting a pair of silk hose made upon it. She, however, still refused his patent, possibly because at this time. Parliament was deprecating Queen Elizabeth’s favourite way of granting monopolies (that is, the exclusive permission to make or sell a certain article) to reward any of her courtiers, the result of which was that the holder of the right could raise the price of an article to enrich himself, there being no fear of competition.

The grants cost Elizabeth nothing, and these monopolies became so numerous, and included so many articles of necessity, that they were a burden to the nation.

Parliament had already remonstrated with the Queen against this practice, the Queen answering that she “hoped that her subjects would not take away her prerogative—the choicest flower in her garden” and promising to “examine all patents, and abide by the touchstone of the law.”

The outcry of the Commons was, however, so great that Elizabeth stated that she would revoke all the monopolies she found which would weigh heavily upon the people, and she graciously thanked the Commons for their action.

“Had I not”, said she, “received a knowledge from you, I


Perhaps it was these imitations of dress which people endeavoured to copy, and knitting was something centred upon to produce stockings to match this dress importation.

According to Hermbstadt in 1830, knitting was known in Italy in 1254.

History tells us that in Queen Elizabeth’s reign, hand-knitting became a craze and a fireside recreation, gradually providing employment for persons in the knitting of stockings by hand. Quoting Felkin again, “The time, however, came when the operations of human hands and fingers were to be imitated, not only in their ruder, but in their more intricate and delicate operations. To increase the riches of the country, and furnish employment with added comforts to the artisan, was the beneficent operation of a loom (?), producing a tissue that perfectly imitated the hand-knitted web, of equal quality, and with much greater speed. It had nothing in common with the old weaver’s loom; it was much more complete, and of nicer adjustment of parts, each admirably devised, and fashioned with an accuracy at that time also unexampled. In attempt, this required a masculine self-command, and to accomplish it, a mechanical genius of the highest order. The person to whom England owes this new and intricate machine was The Reverend William Lee, M.A.” Dr. Thornton (History of Notts, dated 1677) —this history was published only sixty-seven years after his death— says, “At Calverton was born Wiliam (note one ‘l’) Lee, M.A., in Cambridge, and heir to a pretty freehold here, who seeing a woman knit, invented a loom (?) to knit. Lee was not married, and his living was then only of the value of £4 a year... his own ‘freehold’ might enable him to meet the cost of his experiments.”

Necessity is the mother of invention, and Harrison writing at this period tells us, “The Reformation had left the Clergy a poor and despised class, unpopular with the laity. There were few livings now that would support a scholar, universities became desolate, careless patrons sold their livings. The married clergy were hardly pinched. Elizabeth robbed and bullied her bishops, and local magnates followed her example by ill-treating the parish clergy. The church is now the ass for every man to ride upon—all the wealth of our land doth now flow unto our common lawyers.”