Threads Of History
– the industry’s rich links with the past

T he strength and versatility of the region’s clothing and textile industry today is bred from a tradition of skill and expertise over several centuries.

The Industrial Revolution saw the birth of the factory production system for clothing and textiles in a region already rich in natural resources such as water, coal and iron.

The industry continues to evolve and grow today, building on the past with enhanced skills for the present and the future.


The world-wide knitting industry began in Nottinghamshire over 400 years ago. The knitted frame was invented by the Reverend William Lee at Calverton, near Nottingham, in 1589.

The frame was used to produce stockings in either wool or silk. Cotton stockings, for which Nottingham became famous, were not produced until Richard Arkwright’s inventions had produced a strong cotton yarn.

Today, knitting machines are still built in Nottinghamshire, at Monk Cotton in Sutton-in-Ashfield, although they are used for far more than making stockings. The Nottinghamshire tradition of quality and design in knitwear is still evident today. There is a strong concentration of knitwear and knitted fabric companies in the county and in neighbouring Derbyshire.

The Debut Group at Langley Mill, famous for its stylish stretch sportswear and fitness wear, knits and produces its own garments.

Japanese company, Toray Textiles, a world-wide producer of knitted fabrics, chose Nottinghamshire as their British base. Other present day examples of thriving local knitwear companies include Dalmani Knitwear at New Basford in Nottingham, Peter Geeson at Long Eaton, and Straven Knitwear at South Normanton, Derbyshire.


The lace industry, for which Nottingham is world-famous, evolved as a natural development of the framework knitting industry. Nottingham knitters found that the stocking frame could be adapted to produce net.

In 1786, John Rogers of Mansfield, perfected the most successful net made on the stocking frame. It was called “point net” and later became known as “Nottingham Lace.

The Nottingham lace industry boomed during Victoria times, due to their love of lace in clothing, tablecloths and curtains. At this time, a third of the city’s population earned their living in the lace trade.

Nottinghamshire’s lace legacy is the reason why sectors of the industry such as bridal wear, lingerie and household textiles, all major consumers of lace, now dominate the region.


Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire’s haven of natural resources – water power and water supply and its strong manufacturing base – have led to the strong concentration of dyeing and finishing companies in existence today.

Garment dyer and finisher, Coats Viyella Clothing – Stevensons, at Ambergate in Derbyshire, on the River Amber, is one example. Fully made-up garments – such as sweaters, shirts, skirts, trousers and dresses – are dyed in solid shades or given special fashion effects such as Tie-Dye. Other finishes that can be applied to these garments are Teflon, a shower and stain repellent and also a Flame Retardent finish.

Many other dyeing and finishing companies can be found on the region’s network of waterways.