In the Stocking Weaver's Hall, London, there is a portrait of a man in the act of pointing to a stocking frame, and addressing a woman who is knitting with needles. The picture bears the following inscription :—"In the year 1559, the ingenious William Lee, A.M., of St. John's College, Cambridge, devised this profitable art formaking stockings."- A cotemporary gives an interesting elucidation of this inscription. It appears that when the art of knitting stockings was yet a new thing in England, the Rev. Mr. Lee fell in love with a young woman, to whom he paid his addresses ; and it so happened that whenever Mr. Lee came to see her she was knitting a stocking, and so intent was she upon her occupation that she gave little heed to the sugary talk of her lover. His desire for a wife soon changed into a malevolent determination to spoil her knitting forever, by inventing a machine that would supersede stocking-making by hand. He visited the lady as sedulously as ever, but his purpose was to learn the mystery of knitting, that he might contrive to do similar work with iron fingers. He observed that his mistress made the web loop by loop, but the round shape she gave the stocking from the four needles greatly embarrassed him. Pondering this great mystery on one of his visits, he found her knitting the heel of a stocking, and using only two needles —one holding the loop, while the other formed a new series. The thought struck him that he could make a flat web, and round it by joining the selvages. After three years' hard study, Mr. Lee was enabled to make a course upon the frame, but the formation of the heel and foot embarrassed him greatly. Perseverance, however, conquered this difficulty at last, and his machine was finished. The fair knitter, whose shyness or coquetry resulted so strangely, endeavored to re-awaken M. Lee's passion for herself, but in vain. He had become so thoroughly engrossed by his invention that he had no sensibilities for anything else. He abandoned his curacy, shut his heart against affections, and wove stockings in his head from morning till night. T he result was, that though he succeeded to the utmost in his invention, he died in Paris, in concealment, grief, and poverty. The same hall contains a portrait of Sir Richard Ark-wright, whose stocking frame, considerably modified, is the one now generally in use.
This article was originally published with the title "Origin of the Stocking Frame" in Scientific American 13, 49, 387 (August 1858)