The evolution of other weft knitting machines

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The fineness of the needles and sinkers relied heavily on the developing skills of English mechanics, a skill which was lacking on the continent of Europe at that time. Lee's original invention, although workable, was not economically viable as it required two men to operate it. Improvements were carried out and by 1620, Aston, a former apprentice of Lee's, had arranged the sinkers into alternating sets and thus, with skill and precision, had obtained better uniformity of loop length, much finer machine gauges (24 gauge) and easier operation of a frame consisting of 2000 parts.

The jack sinkers continued to be individually raised and lowered but the lead or dividing sinkers were afterwards moved down en bloc to equalise the loop lengths. The principle of sinkers and dividers is still employed on fine gauge Cotton's patent straight bar frames. Other improvements were trucks (wheels bearing the weight of the mechanism), sley castor backs and front stops.

These developments led to attempts to prevent the export of the improved British frames and to the growth of framework knitting in the second half of the seventeenth century, but a hundred years passed before further significant developments occurred. Strutt's Derby Rib attachment dates from 1759 (see Section 7.3). In 1769 the frame was successfully adapted to rotary drive (Section 17.1). It was not until the second half of the nineteenth century that vertical needle bars began to be employed or circular frames became viable (Section 8.4.3), despite earlier circular-machine patents ranging from Decroix's in 1798 to Brunel's in 1816.

It was the invention of Cotton's straight bar frame that automated the production of fashion shaped articles and developed the full potential of loop transfer shaping (Section 17.1).

Matthew Townsend's versatile latch needle (Section 3.14), however, mounted a challenge to the monopoly of the bearded needle frame and, with the later support of precision engineering techniques, it paved the way for electronically-controlled individual needle selection (Sections 11.13 and 12.6) on V-bed and circular machines.

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