Trends in finegauge hosiery since

The straight bar frame was, at first, the main beneficiary of the huge demand that was unleashed for nylon stockings. This caused machine gauges to become progressively finer, and productivity to rise dramatically, as operations became more automated and efficient and knitting speeds increased.

For the circular hose machine, the advent of nylon meant that a combination of stitch- and heat-shaping could now produce a stocking with satisfactory leg-fitting properties, provided ladies' fashion would accept it.

Fashion intervened in the late 1950s, when, with skirts getting progressively shorter, the younger and then all generations, opted for the 'bare leg' look in preference to the seamed leg.

Similarly, in 1966, the advent of the mini skirt brought the welted tops of seamless stockings into view and the conversion from stockings to more comfortable and less-noticeable self-supporting tights began.

For the seamless hosiery industry, the period from 1956 became one of dramatic and revolutionary changes in knitting, making-up, dyeing and finishing, marketing, and fashion. Although hiccups are produced by swings of fashion, the following trends are noticeable:

  • the simplification of styles, knitting machines, and making-up;
  • the increasing automation of making-up operations, handling, and transportation; and
  • higher knitting speeds and/or numbers of feeders.

In twenty years there was a five-fold increase in productivity per knitting machine. Increasingly fierce competition and drastic reductions in the prices of stockings and tights have transformed the overall image from one of fashionable luxury and glamour (only about 8 to 10 per cent of ladies' tights production is patterned) to that of a mass-produced commodity article.

Some of the specific developments that occurred during this period are now discussed.

The slow and expensive reciprocated and linked-closed toe was replaced on a twin-feed machine in 1956 by all-circular knitted courses of spliced fabric, which was later cut and seam shaped into a toe.

In the same year, the Reymes Cole patent described how the reciprocated heel might also be replaced, in this case, by part-circular knitted splicing courses on selected heel section needles.

In 1961, the four-feed Billi Zodiac machine popularised the tube stocking with a patch heel by knitting a stocking in 2 minutes 10 seconds, compared with the 12 minutes taken to knit a stocking with a reciprocated and heel toe on a single-feed machine in the early 1950s. Speeds and numbers of feeds were then gradually increased, with a six-feed machine running at 210rpm in 1963 and,by 1971, a twelve-feed machine running at 260 rpm.

Today, demands for higher quality and more versatility led to a reduction in the number of feeds so that machines now generally have 4 or 6 feeds and commercial operating speeds of 1000-1200 rpm. Electronic controls have reduced the number of mechanical parts so that less mechanical attention is necessary. At the same time, machine manning has been improved so that one person may now run 60-80 machines, whilst 5 kilogram yarn packages can reduce yarn package replacement to 5-day intervals.

The Matec HF range of fine-gauge tights machines do not select needles by using levers. Instead, knit or miss selection is obtained by means of a high-frequency current that changes the polarity of a metal plate which, through another element, moves the selector jack into either the knit or the non-knit camtracks. Needle-by-needle selection is achieved at a speed of 1000rpm.

On a 6-feed machine, it is possible to knit tights with 5 colours and any structure in the ground at a speed of 800 rpm [1].

Recently there has been an increasing use of Lycra and other elastane yarns, in bare or in covered form, at every course or at alternate courses, either by knitting, laying-in or plating. This has not only improved fit and comfort, it has improved wear and thus reduced consumption.

Elasticated medical support hosiery with graduated compression has long been available. It allows the blood to flow back more easily in the leg. Advances in the knitting of fine-gauge elasticated hosiery, such as finer yarns and electronic-control of the graduated knitted leg shape, have led to the development of the Lycra Leg Care scheme for the fashion side of ladies' fine-gauge hosiery. The scheme is based on objective and measurable standards using Lycra yarns. This enables fine-gauge stockings and tights to be made with smooth, comfortable, graduated compression for body-shape control and improved blood circulation. There is a choice of three compression levels - light, medium and firm - based on pressure gradient levels.

One rather unsuccessful development has been the automatically knitted closed toe, which was almost immediately replaced by the cut-and-sew toe produced by the automatic toe-sewing equipment used during making-up operations.

In seamless hosiery finishing equipment, the dye-boarder, introduced in the early 1960s, replaced, in a single cycle, the separate operations of scouring, pre-boarding, dyeing and post-boarding, thus reducing labour content as well as pull threads caused during handling. Today, ladies' hosiery ranges from 7 denier ultra sheers to 70 denier opaques, in such forms as tights, stockings, hold-ups and knee-highs.

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