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The Hosiery factory

December 11, 2009

It’s been unusually cold here which has led me to think about socks more than I usually would. They are one of those things that just about everyone wears and rarely thinks about, but what makes a great sock? The answer is hand-stitched toes, uncomfortable seams are created by machine finishing. Hand-stitched toes are words to live by, once you have a pair it’s hard to wear anything else.

1589

The first knitting machine, the hand frame, was invented in 1589 by the Rev. William Lee of Calverton, NottsConstant improvements led to the growth of an industry in London by 1600 producing fashion stockings, hence the term ‘stocking frame’. Knitters served a seven-year apprenticeship, working under a hosier’s control. The idea of a circular machine was brought to life in the late 1830s since it could operate faster than a flat machine which involved a series of discontinuous movements.

William Cotton invented the basic knitting machine movements used in modern equipment. When the Cotton patent ran out in 1879, other companies copied the design and produced their own version.  The machines were commonly referred to as ‘Cotton’s patents’.

A Komet knitter manual from 1936.

Bentley Komet machine from 1936

The 1950s was a busy decade for the British knitting machine building industry as companies replaced old worn out machines and invested in new machines.  The Bentley Engineering Co. Ltd emerged during this period as the largest knitting machine company in the world with a staff of 4,000. This success dropped off as Italy and Japan quickly invented and produced newer technologies.

There are still companies in England that use Bentley Komet machines which require a great deal of maintenance in order to run well. Scott-Nichol is an English sock making company in Leicestershire, England that still uses these special machines and then true to tradition they hand-stitch the toes.

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