The art and process of forming fabrics by looping a single thread,
either by hand with slender wires or by means of a machine provided
with hooked needles, is called knitting. Crocheting is an analogous
art, but differs from knitting in the fact that the separate loops are
thrown off and finished by hand successively, whereas in knitting the
whole series of loops which go to form one length or round are
retained on one
or more needles, while a new series is being formed on
a separate needle. Netting is performed by knotting threads into
meshes that cannot be unraveled, while knitting can be unraveled and
the same thread applied to any other use. Knitting is really carried
on without making knots; thus, the destruction of one loop threatens
the destruction of the whole web, unless the meshes are reunited.
The principle of knitting is quite distinct from that of weaving. In
the weaving of cloth the yarns of one system cross those of another
system at right angles, thus producing a solid, firm texture. The
great elasticity of any kind of texture produced by knitting is the
chief feature that distinguishes hosiery from woven stuffs. The nature
of the loop formed by the knitting needle favors elongation and
contraction without marring in the least the general structure of the
goods. Builders of weavers' looms have at times endeavored to secure
this elastic effect by certain manipulations of the mechanism of the
loom, but as yet nothing approaching the product of the knitter has
been made. The elastic feature of a knitted texture renders it
peculiarly adapted for all classes and kinds of undergarments, for it
not only fits the body snugly, but expands more readily than any other
fabric of similar weight.
=Knitting Machines.= There are various machines for knitting. The
circular knitting machine produces a circular web of various degrees
of fineness, and in sizes ranging from a child's stocking to a man's
No. 50 undershirt. The circular fabric made in this manner has to be
cut up and joined together by some method to make a complete garment.
The knitting frame for producing fashioned goods makes a flat strip,
narrowing and widening it at certain places so as to conform to the
shape of the foot, leg, or body. These strips then have to be joined
by sewing or knitting to form a garment. Fashioning machines are
indispensable for knitting the Niantic and French foot, and also for
the production of stripes, fancy openwork, and lace hosiery.
All plain machines of any class produce only plain knitted fabrics,
while ribbed machines make only ribbed fabrics. Still, many garments
in their make-up include both kinds of knitting; therefore, many
machines produce only certain parts of particular garments. In the
case of half-hose there is frequently a ribbed top, or in underwear a
ribbed cuff, and these may be made either of circular web or full
fashioned. In each case the ribbed portion is first knit and then
transferred to a plain machine, and being placed upon the needles is
worked on to the rest of the garment. In some instances the heel is
made by the machine working the leg, though there are numerous
knitters specially designed for turning out only this particular part.
Among other knitting machines in modern use are the drawers machine;
machines for hose and half-hose with apparatus for making the instep,
finishing off the toe, splicing or thickening the heels, etc.;
machines for producing the bottoms or soles of hose separately, and
also the instep separately; circular stocking machines for producing a
tubular web afterwards cut into suitable lengths for all varieties of
hose; circular sleeve machines, circular body machines, as well as
circular web machines for making both body and sleeves of undershirts,
jerseys, sweaters, etc. Special machines are also made for knitting
both plain and ribbed plaited goods, that is, with both sides wool
while the center is of cotton, or with a silk or worsted face on one
side and the back of an inferior yarn. In the form of auxiliary
appliances are produced many kinds of stitching machines; circular
latch-needle machines for plain ribbed, mock seam, and striped goods;
steam presses; hose rolling machines; hose cutting and welting
machines, and many other accessories to hosiery manufacture.
At present fully one-third of the knit underwear used in this country
is of the ribbed description. It is made in all the materials that
the older flat goods are composed of, including silk, silk mixtures,
linen, wool, lisle, and cotton. Rib work is ordinarily stronger and
more lasting than plain. It is also invaluable for many purposes on
account of its tendency to contract and expand in the direction of the
circumference without altering its length. This feature makes it
indispensable for tops to socks and wrist work for shirts, mittens,
gloves, etc., and for the production of heavy garments such as
cardigans and sweaters. The expense of knitting rib work is higher
than plain knitting, owing to the fact that the machines cannot turn
out so great a quantity within a given time.
The formation of the rib in knitted goods is unique in its principle.
The effect is produced by reversing the stitch. In place of making the
stitch work appear entirely upon one side of the fabric, as in plain
work, the needles are so arranged that every alternate row, or two
rows alternately, are reversed, thus making both sides alike. Plain
work is done with a single bank of needles, while rib work requires
two banks, the function of the second one being to pull and loop the
yarn in an opposite direction, thus producing a thicker and more
Double work in knitting consists merely in running two threads where
one is commonly used. The work is done readily and with but little
extra cost for labor. Coarser and heavier needles are required, also a
wider gauge for the needle cylinder. Fancy effects in double work are
produced by running two colors instead of one. The tendency is for one
thread to twine about the other, thus making attractive
double-and-twist work. Lumbermen's socks and like goods are often
knitted on this plan, though for the most part double work is for the
heels, toes, and soles of ordinary hose.
=Stripe Knitting.= The process of striping knitted fabrics is
accomplished automatically by a system of changing the yarns when
delivered by the feeds. Circular machines knitting a tubular web
cannot be utilized for this purpose, hence the work is done on
fashioning or stocking frames. It has only been within recent years
that makers of knitting machinery have been able to offer machines on
which more than one kind of yarn could be knit at one time. There are
now in use, however, machines that will readily knit several colors of
yarn at the same time.
=Knitting Cotton.= A variety of loosely twisted, four-ply cotton yarn,
dyed in various plain and mixed colors, employed for knitting hosiery,
tidies, mats, etc., by hand. It is numbered from 8, coarse, to 20,
fine, and commonly put up sixteen balls in a box, each box containing
two pounds, manufacturer's weight.
=Knitting Silk.= A loosely twisted silk thread of domestic manufacture
employed for knitting mittens, stockings, and other articles by hand.
It is also much used for crochet work. Knitting silk is put up in the
form of balls, each containing one-half ounce of thread. It is made in
but two sizes, No. 300, coarse, and No. 500, fine; each ball of the
former number contains 150 yards of silk; of the latter 250 yards. No.
500 is manufactured only in white, cream, and black; the No. 300 is
fast dyed in a great variety of colors.
=Hosiery Manufacture.= According to the particular method by which
socks and stockings are made, of whatever kind, quality, or material,
they are classed as cut goods, seamless, or full fashioned. Of the
three methods of manufacturing the first named is the least expensive.
Cut goods are made of round webbing knitted on what is called a
circular knitting machine. The web has the appearance of a long roll
of cloth about the width of a sock or stocking when pressed flat. The
first operation consists in cutting off pieces the length of the
stocking desired, these lengths, of course, being the same (unshaped)
from end to end. The shaping of the leg is effected either by cutting
out enough of the stocking from the calf to the heel to allow part to
be sewn up and shaped to fit the ankle, or by shrinking. In the
heeling room where the pieces next go, the cutters are furnished with
gauges or patterns that indicate just where to make a slit for the
insertion of the heel, generally of a different color. When the heel
is sewn in, the stocking begins to assume its rightful shape. The toe
is now put on and the stocking is practically finished. In the case of
socks the final operation consists in attaching the ribbed top, which
tends to draw the upper part of the leg together, thus causing it to
assume a better shape. The final work includes scouring, dyeing, and
shaping. The cost of making cut goods is less by a few cents per dozen
than when knit seamless. While some very creditable hose are produced
in this way, yet the existence of the heavy seam is an objection which
confines them to the poorest class of trade. Cut goods are made in
all sizes and kinds for men, women, and children.
Seamless hose are made on a specially constructed machine which
produces the entire stocking, but leaves the toe piece to be joined
together by a looping attachment. On half-hose the leg is made the
same size down to the ankle, but on ladies' hose the stocking is
shaped somewhat in the machine. Seamless hose are not, strictly
speaking, entirely seamless, inasmuch as all stockings made on a
circular knitting machine must have a seam somewhere. There must be a
beginning and an ending. In the case of the stocking the ending is at
the toe, and the opening left can only be closed with a seam. In some
mills this opening is automatically stitched together on special
machines; in others, girls do it by hand with needle and thread.
Neither by machine nor handwork can the opening be closed with exactly
the same stitch as that made by the needles of the power knitter.
However, the seam is of small proportions, and when the goods are
scoured, pressed, and finished the presence of the seam is a minor
item, as it neither incommodes the wearer nor mars the appearance of
the stocking. Seamless goods are made in a great variety of qualities,
ranging from cotton half-hose at fifty cents per dozen to the fine
worsted stockings at $6.00 per dozen. A notable and very commendable
feature of seamless hose is the socket-like shape of the heel, which
fits that portion of the foot as though really fitted to it. As far as
comfort and fit are concerned, the manufacture of seamless hosiery has
now reached such a degree of perfection as to bring it second only to
the full-fashioned variety.
Full-fashioned hose are produced by means of complicated and expensive
knitting frames, which automatically drop the requisite number of
stitches at the ankle so as gradually to narrow the web down and give
the stocking the natural shape of the leg. The toe is produced in the
same way, and the shaping of heel and gusset is brought about in like
manner. Hence, the goods are called full-fashioned, because so
fashioned as to conform to the proportions of the leg and foot. Hose
and underwear made by this method are knit in flat strips and then
seamed either by hand or machine. Generally special machines are used,
which take up and complete the selvedges, thus avoiding objectionable
seams with raw edges.
The knitting frames used for making full-fashioned goods are large,
intricate, expensive, and slow in operation; they are difficult to
keep in order and require skilful operators. The largest ones knit
from fourteen to eighteen stockings at once, using as many as four
threads of different colors in the production of patterns. The first
operation consists in knitting the leg down to the foot; then the legs
are transferred by expert workmen to another frame which knits the
foot. Next they go to another department where, with the aid of a
special looping machine, the heels and toes are stitched together.
Then the stockings or socks are handed over to expert women operators,
who seam up the legs on a machine especially adapted for the purpose.
After being sorted they are taken to be dyed, boarded, stitched,
dried, and finally subjected to heat and pressure to give them a
finished appearance. It usually requires two weeks from the time the
manufacturing operations begin, for a stocking to emerge from the
factory in a finished form. Full-fashioned hose are made in all shades
and grades of silk and cotton, in lisle thread, and in all kinds of
cashmere, merino, and woolen goods. They are likewise knitted plain,
ribbed, and with fancy stripes and embroidery effects. In the United
States there are numerous important plants engaged in the production
of full-fashioned goods, while large quantities are annually imported
from Germany and France.
=Finishing Process.= When socks and stockings are taken off of the
knitting machines they present an unfinished appearance, being loose,
puckered, dirty, and generally shapeless. Scouring, dyeing, shaping,
and pressing serve to improve their looks, and these finishing
operations constitute a distinct branch of the industry. While still
in a moist state the hose are shaped. This is effected by the use of
forming-boards made of wood and about one-half of an inch in
thickness. The sock or stocking is carefully stretched over the "form"
while damp, and then placed in a heated chamber and allowed to dry.
The goods assume the shape of the wooden "form," and will always hold
it if the work has been carefully and thoroughly done. After they have
been taken from the drying chamber and the boards removed the hose are
pressed between heavy metal plates or rollers, looked over for
defects, and when boxed or bundled are ready for market.