Fabric machines and garmentlength machines

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Weft knitting machines may be broadly grouped according to end product as either:

  • circular machines, knitting tubular fabric in a continuous uninterrupted length of constant width, or
  • flat and circular machines, knitting garment-length sequences, which have a timing or counting device to initiate an additional garment-length programming ('machine control') mechanism. This co-ordinates the knitting action to produce a garment-length structural repeat sequence in a wale-wise direction. The garment width may or may not vary within the garment length.

The difference between fabric and garment-length knitting is best understood in terms of hand flat knitting. If the knitter merely traverses the cam carriage backwards and forwards across the needle bed, a continuous fabric length will be knitted. However, if the knitter counts the traverses and alters the cam box settings at predetermined traverses, a garment-length sequence can be knitted.

Underwear may be knitted either in garment-length or fabric form, whereas knitwear is normally in garment-length form, usually knitted in machine gauges coarser than E 14. Jersey wear is cut and made-up from fabric usually knitted on large circular machines (26-inch or 30-inch diameter), although there are larger and smaller diameter machines used. Generally, gauges are finer than E 14.

8.1.1 Fabric machines

Large diameter, circular, latch needle machines (also known as yardgoods or piece goods, machines) knit fabric, at high speed, that is manually cut away from the machine (usually in roll form) after a convenient length has been knitted. Most fabric is knitted on circular machines, either single-cylinder (single jersey) or cylinder and dial (double jersey), of the revolving needle cylinder type, because of their high speed and productive efficiency.

Circular machines employing bearded needles are now obsolete. Although sinkerwheel and loopwheel frames could knit high quality speciality fabrics, their production rates were uncompetitive.

Unless used in tubular body-width, the fabric tube requires splitting into open-width. It is finished on continuous finishing equipment and is cut-and-sewn into garments, or it is used for household and technical fabrics. The productivity, versatility and patterning facilities of fabric machines vary considerably. Generally, cam settings and needle set-outs are not altered during the knitting of the fabric (see also Chapter 13, The production of weft knitted fabric).

8.1.2 Garment-length machines

Garment-length machines include straight bar frames, most flats, hosiery, legwear and glove machines, and circular garment machines including sweater strip machines, producing knitwear, outerwear and underwear. On these machines, the garment sequence control with the timing/counting device, collectively termed 'the machine control', automatically initiates any alteration to the other facilities on the machine needed to knit a garment-length construction sequence instead of a continuous fabric.

This machine control may have to initiate correctly-timed changes in some or all of the following: cam-settings, needle set-outs, feeders and machine speeds. It must be able to override and cancel the effect of the patterning mechanism in rib borders and be easily adjustable for different garment sizes.

Also the fabric take down mechanism must be more sophisticated than for continuous fabric knitting. It has to adapt to varying rates of production during the knitting of the sequence and, on some machines, be able to assist both in the setting-up on empty needles and the take away of separate garments or pieces on completion of the sequence.

Garments may be knitted to size either in tubular or open-width; in the latter case more than one garment panel may be knitted simultaneously across the knitting bed. Large-diameter circular machines and wide V-bed flat machines can knit garment blanks that are later split into two or more garment widths (blanket-width knitting) (see also Chapter 20, Circular garment-length machines).

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