Bohemian Austrian and Hungarian Knitting

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Following the chronological order of the introduction of the knitting machine, we shall discuss collectively the group of countries in central Europe which during this period were a single state organism under Hapsburg rule. In the first place we must mention Bohemia which most rapidly became an important centre of machine knitting. Already at the end of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth century the cheapest and most primitive knitting machine had gained popularity being organised in the putting-out system of production. Needles, blades and hold-fast fittings were made of metal, while both the entire casing of the working part and the base, was of wood.17 No specimen of this cheap wooden machine has survived; however, there are numerous data on the use of these machines, for example in Krusnohori. They were called Valcovy stavek and mentions of them appear up to the early eighteenth century. On this primitive type of knitting machine it was possible to quickly make thick woollen articles designed for wide circles of consumers who wore western European dress for which knitted stockings were already an essential item. In central Europe, iron and generally metal goods were expensive, always being listed in detail in probate inventories, while all the household and farm tools consisted of precisely fashioned wooden implements.

The first of the Bohemian manufactures, which also produced stockings apart from other articles, was established during 1684-1688 in Sobechleby. The second one was set up as Jesuit property in Osieck in 1697. The abbot of that monastery, Benedikt Litverich, fetched the Saxon master Johann Paul Rothig from Saxony. At first there were 9 metal knitting machines working there and at the end of the seventeenth century there were 50 specialists. In 1725 the manufacture was employing 91 people comprising 63 spinners, 14 knitters, a dyer and workers engaged in the finishing process. In 1744 the manufacture produced 877 pairs of stockings of which 783 pairs were of the best quality. The establishment had its own dye- works, press and about 15 knitting machines; thus it was not a very large one. Saxon and other experts were establishing knitting workshops in Duchcov, Bilina, Teplice, Krupce, Horni Litvinov and Strelni Svetec as well as in Jihlava. In 1713, a group of manufactures grew in the village Dluzyce, established by B. E. von Uechtritz: "The hosiery was located in the largest brick house consisting of 11 rooms [partly occupied by members of the Uechtritz household], 1 counter and 2 shops. There were 12 metal and 13 wooden knitting frames in good condition on which silk and woollen stockings were being produced. There were also two presses there".18 Wool was also being processed by hosiery manufactures in Slawkow from 1701 and in Krizanov from 1704, both of them linked with clothiers' manufactures. The Slawkow manufacture was producing woollen stockings, willingly bought in Brno and Vienna. It employed 8 people for sorting wool and repairing machines, 12 carders, 73 spinners for wool and 3 for cotton, 9 journeymen producing stockings on machines, 1 fuller and 1 dyer.19

Anton Klima cites a few references to the numerous knitting manufactures established in Bohemia during the twenties of the eighteenth century. The manufacture in Liberec arrived in 1723 attached to a similar clothiers' establishment. In the years before 1729-1753 a knitting manufacture existed in Nova Kdynia. There is no precise data on its equipment and the output volume. Altogether in 1761, there were 1853 knitters working in Bohemia. In Bohemian production woollen articles predominated; cotton knitwear constituted just a small part of production. The table below shows the volume of knitting production (without spinners) during 1775-1797 based on data coming from three studies.

Country, Year

Type of knitters






Number of machines
































































































The statistical data presented above complement each other, despite some minor differences. H. Freudenberger gave data pertaining to Bohemian and Moravian production on the basis of Austrian archive material. The data up to 1788 are cited after Klima and Salz.20 Only in the eighties do machine-knitters in Bohemia predominate over hand-knitters, earlier their production being small. In 1797 the more than 4 thousand knitting frames in Bohemia make this country a production centre equal to that of the French town Nimes.

It emerges from A. Klima's book that the number of knitting manufactures did not increase much in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. There is an increase, however, in the number of workers in manufactures processing cotton yarn. Thus, for example, in a manufacture utilizing the labour of children in Bele near Bezdez, in 1769 cotton stockings were being produced on 6 machines, while in 1771 already on 14. The annual output amounted to 600 dozen, that is 7200 pairs of cotton stockings and caps, mainly night-caps.21 The development of Bohemian knitting production was similar to that of other central European countries, that is, less frequently in individual manufactures, more often in larger groups of textile establishments. These groups were generally linked together by the use of the same type of raw material, such as woollen, cotton, silk and less often linen yarn. An example of such an establishment is the manufacture of Count Belz, set up in 1763 on his estate in Kosmonosy. Cotton stockings and caps from imported yarn were produced there, some of the knitters being employed in the domestic putting- out system.22 Bohemian industry did not enjoy any state support which resulted in a relatively small number of manufactures and in the development of the domestic putting- out production. Both the volume and the quality of the production turned out to be competitive to the neighbouring countries, that is to Austria and southern Germany.23 Bohemia constitutes an interesting example of a country where knitting machines diffuses early among guild and domestic producers with the simultaneous development of hand knitting. Not only does the quoted statistical data, but also the guild insignia from Prague from 1792 testify to its existence.24 In Moravia, hand knitting predominated up to the late eighteenth century.

Slovakia, following the example of Hungary, adopted male national dress based on eastern models. The demand for knitted stockings was relatively small in this country. Consequently the development of hand knitting, presented in Chapter IV, did not induce machine production, usually organized into manufactures. Still in the course of the eighteenth century, notices about new confirmations of guild privileges recur constantly, as in 1744 in Trnava, in 1770 in Sobotiste, Holica and Sastin in eastern Slovakia.25 At the same time no data is available about knitting manufactures in Slovakia before 1825.26

Bohemia and Slovakia belonged to the group of countries governed by the Austrian Hapsburgs. This status hindered the development of knitting in Bohemia, economically more developed than Austria, as well as in the under-developed Slovakia, and also in Hungary. The protective policy of Maria Theresa was specifically directed at Austria itself. Imperial court support for knitting production was manifested not only by grants but also by restrictions on the import of these products from other Germanic countries, mainly from Prussia and Bohemia. Mention of the first knitting frame working in Vienna refers to a manufacture established there by a Frenchman. At the same time, the need for drafting in machine- knitters' statute was acknowledged in Vienna in 1707. It emphasized the importance of producing silk stockings on metal machines (thus not the wooden, Bohemian, ones), and at the same time it prohibited unorganized citizens from engaging in this production. This new branch of textile production needed the framework of the guild system as much for protection against competition from the fairly strong hand-knitting guild as against free producers. The new statute from 1707 while determining guild powers, restricted the volume of output. The guild was obliged not to exceed the number of 7 masters, and each of them could train only one apprentice over a four-year apprenticeship period. The qualification for master worker was the ability to assemble the machine unaided and to produce men's silk stockings of the highest quality. Hand-knitters could not possess metal machines and were forbidden to produce silk, even semi-silk, stockings, or to sell them. However, they were probably permitted to make coarse woollen stockings on the most primitive, partly wooden, machines. Restrictions on the number of workers and workshops were not entorced owing to the state support and the great demand for knitwear. In 1742 in Vienna there were already 25 producers of silk stockings, as many as in Berlin in the same period.27

The volume of knitwear production was growing in many parts of Austria in the second half of the eighteenth century. The Viennese association of silk stockings' producers considerably increased the number of its establishments after 1760; 15 producers of woollen stockings belonged to it. In 1766 it was recorded that the annual production in Vienna amounted to 9000 dozen winter stockings, described as Hamburg or Berlin products; therefore they could replace Bohemian products of similar quality. The quantititative ratio of producers of woollen to silk stockings in Vienna was as follows: 1742 - 4:25, 1749 - 17:90, 1790-23:129, 1800-19:113. Only after 1789 did machine-knitters have official permission to produce stockings from wool or cotton. Till then their production of silk stockings was predominant, since they were easier to execute on a machine. The enlargement of raw material possibilities increased the product variety of Viennese knitting. In 1803, various types of stockings and gloves, night-caps, purses, as well as larger items such as men's waistcoats, bodices and other ladies' garments connected with the fashion of the empire,28 were produced in Vienna.

The development of machine knitting in Vienna was connected with the local market and assumed greater dimensions only in the second half of the eighteenth entury owing to the concentration of a large number of small establishments there. Knitting manufactures established themselves in Lower Austria. The first attempt to establish a large machine-knitting manufacture on the Walpersdorf estates belonging to Graf Sinzendorf dates to 1666-1671. It was a typical enterprise based on imported machines, raw material and labour of knitters from Lyon. The quality of the silk stockings did not withstand competition from other European knitting centres; they were unsuitable for export and were too expensive for local consumers. The manufactere came to an end in 1682. After its fall there are no records of machine knitting in Lower Austria in the eighteenth century.29 In Upper Austria in 1636 and later, in 1648, there were attempts to popularize the knitting production in the surroundings of Enns. Also an 1649 the abbot from Kremsmiinster organizes to a great extent a domestic knitting production in the putting-out system.30 It is not known, however, whether knitting machines were being used there. Nevertheless, these attempts indicate the fairly large production potential of the region in the field of knitting based on local wool.

The matter of the establishment of a knitting manufacture in Linz is a little obscure. The only documents preserved are from 1697 demonstrating guild opposition towards the establishment of an imperial knitting manufacture in this town. It is not known whether this actually did come into existence and if so, whether it managed to withstand the strong competition from the hand-knitters' guild or not. In 1717 the latter obtained a new confirmation of the statute, which fought against all bunglers, including the confiscation of their products. In 1786 the knitting manufacture of Franz Maurer and Franz Rath was established in Linz, which produced silk stockings patterned upon the products from Halle. In the early nineteenth century there are several knitting manufactures found in this town. After 1782 there was a knitting manufacture in Steyr, which employed 8 masters, 63 journeymen and apprentices and 340 spinners. In 1803 in Linz a knitting manufacture was established, which produced caps with oriental designs, probably destined mainly for export to the Balkans and the Middle East. During 1785-1789 the number of workers employed in knitting production in Upper Austria increased from 3332 to 4736; in 1790 there were 3484 spinners engaged in the preparation of the yarn for this branch of textiles. Smaller establishments were found in Uttendorf, Kirchdorf, Grieskirchen and Mondsee. A large number of master-knitters employed in these manufactures, came from Bohemia.31 Thus knitting in Upper Austria, under the protection of the imperial court, was based on experts from Bohemia and their professional experience, despite the weakness of the local textile industry.

In the years 1763-1818 the largest manufacture in Upper Austria was that established in Poneggen. Abundant archival material elaborated by G. Griill enables us to present in a more comprehensive way the character of this manufacture and its output capacity. It was set up by Graf Saiburg who in 1763 made the attempt to establish a the manufacture of the so-called "Hamburg stockings". Already in 1764 the initial enterprise capital was augmented thanks to the establishemt of a company, created by several representatives of the Austrian aristocracy. Support from the imperial court enabled the import rights on knitwear and their retail sale to be restricted. Nevertheless, the manufacture developed slowly; the initial productivity norms - three stockings in two days - reveal the limited skill of the journeymen working on these machines and are close to the productive capacity of hand knitting. The manufacture was located in Poneggen Castle and, in addition to the large number of rooms occupied there, it also had a fulling mill, a large building for five families of skilled workers and 16 houses occupied by other employees.

In 1767, "the yearly output of stockings amounted at most to 6000-8000 dozen. The petition also listed all the people working at Poneggen factory. They totalled 4157, and 2954 of them were spinners, 1101 of them knitters, and 102 were either labourers or clerks in the factory. 1592 of the spinners and 96 of the knitters were recruited from Graf Salburg's own estates in Zellhof, Rutenstein, Arbing, Kreuzen, Greinburg, and Sallaberg; 552 of the spinners belonged to the Thurheims' Schwertberg estate". The figures from the period between 1782-1812 clearly reveal the decline of the factory. But in some fifteenth years it was one of the largest non- centralized knitting manufacture in Europe. Only the finishing of all the products, including a small production of knitwear, was centralized in the factory buildings. For this reason it is possible understand easily the problems of fulling, dyeing and fashioning the knitwear. The manufacture was producing woollen stockings. The greatest problem was securing a suitable supply of good wool, wool from Banat being considered the best, while worse raw material came from Bulgaria, Macedonia and Wallachia. Treatment of the wool was undertaken in the manufacturing premises, great attention being paid to the proper set of the cards and combs. Several types of dye- stuffs were also needed for dyeing the stockings such as: alum, logwood, cochineal, curcume, brazil wood, gall nut, Hungarian dyer's weed, Dutch ochro wood, indigo, sumack and madder, and also potash and some another dopes. The Poneggen manufacture produced the stockings in different colours and undertones, in very big assortment. Archival data does not show whether domestic producers were being issued with already treated wool but in any case spinning was done outside the manufacture. The production of stockings required rather strongly twisted yarn. The norms of stocking production on machines must definitely have increased if less than twenty journeymen from the manufacture were producing 6000 dozen different types of stockings, that is 72,000 pairs; the work of about a thousand domestic producers in the putting-out system, however, could have been included here. The most frequently mentioned are 3-4-ply stockings, thus of fairly good thickness. They were fulled in a large fulling mill in hot water whith alkaline solvents, then with soap. They were pressed in a large press and only after drying and arranging into pairs were they dyed. The product assortment was not very wide. Listed were smooth men's stockings and 4-6-ply women's ones, patterned men's, women's and children's, less frequently 2-3-ply stockings in different colours. Trade records also mention Hamburg stockings, plain and patterned, English ones, Berlin, Saxon, Paduan and Segovian ones, as well as those produced on the model of Wroclaw stockings, Budziszyn stockings, or the products from Erlangen, Naumburg and Apolda. Gaiters and socks were also being produced. Beaver stockings were produced from wool mixed with beaver hair. The long list of descriptions of stockings is of great importance in establishing the attempt at Ponneggen to imitate so many products from different European countries.

"From the earliest times, fashion has been a promoter of economic and technological change. The fashion for stockings spread amongst all classes from the seventeenth century and flourished especially in the eighteenth century, and it was this fashion which created the first impulse for the change from individual production by hand knitters to mass production in factories. The increasing demand could only be satisfied in this way. Fashion led to the establishment of the hosiery company at Poneggen in order to supply the Austrian Empire with import-substitutes for goods which previously could only be acquired from abroad, especially from northern Germany. It existed for the relatively short period of fifty years (1763- 1818), but the existence of fairly good sources has made it possible to examine certain important aspects of this interesting enterprise in a period of state-directed industry and trade.

It also shows that in the second half of the eighteenth century large European knitting centres such as Padua, Segovia, Hamburg, Berlin or the group of towns in Saxony, were producing types of stockings distinguishable to traders and consumers.32

Knitting production in Styria and Tyrol was of local importance only. In 1769 in Graz itself and its surroundings 40 machines were producing woollen stockings. Greater, however, in this district was the production of hand-knitters who even protested against the construction of a fulling mill for this manufacture. Despite their opposition, a manufacture producing silk stockings was established in Gratz itself in the late eighteenth century. In Leibach these products were being manufactured already from 1729. The earliest to come into existence in Gratz was a manufacture of cotton stockings and headgear since these did not constitute competition to local hand made production. In the local museum there is a knitting frame preserved from the eighteenth century. (II. 21) Styria had a powerful domestic production of woollen knitwear organized in the putting-out system and these products played a part in the local dress already from the seventeenth century. Tyrol was always an important centre of hand knitting, but by 1774 there were already 58 knitting machines. Stockings meant for military dress were mainly being produced on them.33 Knitting production in Austria gained great impetus during the eighteenth century, while Bohemia, Slovakia, Hungary and Galicia were merely to play the role of raw material base and market for the produced articles.

Textile production in Hungary develops only in the eighteenth century.34 The first mention of the registration of a knitters' guild comes from Buda from 1715. The guild sign of one of the Hungarian corporations is dated about 1725. In 1774 a knitters' guild already existed in Sopron, from 1776 at least these craftsmen had a guild in Gyor; from 1781 comes both the statute and the knitters' guild seal in Veszprem. In 1782 knitters were working in the komitat of Tolna. These scattered archival references and the preserved guild insignia reveal the existence of a limited knitting production source about which there is no mention in the literature on the subject.35 Nevertheless, in the eighteenth century there was not a single knitting manufacture in Hungary, although the existence of machine knitting is document only by two very interesting frames dating from about 1800. One of them is to be found in Fono-Szovo es Hurkoloipari Technikum in Budapest, another one in the textile mill in Hodmezovasarhely. Both resemble the first machine of William Lee from 1589, and not another more complicated version from the eighteenth century. But there are some small differences in the position of wheel transferring propulsion from foot to the working part. They are completely different from the Saxon wooden frames with two slatingly fitted wheels.36 Perhaps further investigation may reveal larger centres of domestic production in the putting-out system and enable us to draw the characteristics of Hungarian knitting. The diffusion of west European men's dress in the eighteenth century created a demand for stockings on the local market.

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  • vanessa
    How knitwear come in existance?
    9 years ago

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