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