The early development of ladies finegauge hosiery machines

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Circular machinery entered hosiery production inauspiciously during the nineteenth century, knitting fabric that was then cut and seamed into cheap 'leg bags', onto which heels, soles and toes were later hand-frame knitted.

The development of specifically designed circular hose machines followed from patents such as those of Newton in 1857 and McNary in 1860. These described how seamless heel and toe pouches could be knitted as part of the tubular leg structure by selectively taking needles in and out of action during reciprocation.

During the 1870s, the patents granted to Henry Griswold virtually perfected the hand-powered sock machine. This world-famous small-diameter latch needle machine has a single rotating cam-system (and yarn feed) that can be oscillated (reciprocated) for heel and toe pouch knitting, and an attachable dial needle holder for knitting the integral rib tops at the start of the sock.

Much of the early development of large- and small-diameter single-cylinder latch needle machinery occurred in the USA. For many years, both in Britain and the rest of Europe, the products of these machines were considered to be inferior in quality to those knitted on bearded needle machinery or (later) latch needle machines with two needle beds.

Important developments in circular hosiery machinery included:

  • the introduction of power;
  • the use of holding-down sinkers;
  • the automatic control of mechanical changes and operations;
  • a change of machinery design from rotating cam-boxes to revolving cylinders; and
  • the gradual replacement of bearded needles by latch needles as their fineness and reliability improved.

The first powered circular hose machine was produced by Shaw in 1879, and in 1887 pickers were added to automatically knit heel and toe pouches. By 1900, most mechanical operations could be automatically controlled by the machine, apart from welt turning and toe closing. Scott and Williams patented the former on their Model 'K' machine in 1915 and the latter, less successfully, over forty years later in 1967.

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