1902 Encyclopedia > Hosiery


HOSIERY. Under this name is embraced a wide range of manufactured textiles, which are classed together more on account of their manner of fabrication than from simi-larity of application or use. The term, as is quite obvious, has its origin in hose or stockings; but although stockings continue to be one of the staples of hosiery, that department is only one of a very numerous and diversified range of applications of the entire industry, it having been officially stated that not fewer than 5000 distinct articles are made in the trade. All kinds of hosiery proper are made by the process of knitting, and the industry has principally to deal with the fabrication of knitted under-clothing.

The art of knitting is the youngest of all the important textile manufactures, and, compared with the others, its origin is quite modern. No certain allusion to the art occurs before the beginning of the 15th century. In an Act of Parliament of Henry VII. (1488) knitted woollen caps are mentioned. It is supposed that the art was first practised in Scotland, and thence carried into England, and that caps were made by knitting for some period before the more difficult feat of stocking-making was attempted. In an Act of Edward VI. (1553) "knitte hose, knitte peticotes, knitte gloves, and knitte slieves " are enumerated, and the trade of hosiers is, among others, included in an Act dated 1563. Spanish silk stockings were worn on rare occasions by Henry VIII., and the same much-prized articles are also mentioned in connexion with the wardrobe of Edward VI.

The peculiarity of knitting consists in the use of a single thread for the entire texture, and in the formation therewith of a singularly elastic yet strong and firm looped web.

The process of hand-knitting is universally known, and the endless details of fancy stitches and loops whereby ornamented work can be produced do not come within the scope of hosiery proper. While a vast quantity of the best and most comfortable hosiery is made with implements so simple and inexpensive as four knitting wires or needles, the manufacturing industry is carried on with machinery of unsurpassed ingenuity and complexity. Moreover, domestic knitting machines, mostly of American origin, have of late years been introduced, and, although these can never be expected to attain the popular favour of the sewing-machine, yet they have been widely adopted.

Fig. 1.

In the year 1589 the stocking-frame, the machine which mechanically produces the looped stitch in hosiery, was invented by the Rev. William Lee, a graduate of Cambridge, and native of Woodborough, near Notting-ham. The fundamental principle of the apparatus consists in the substitution of a sepa-rate hooked or barbed needle for the support and working of each loop, in place of the system whereby an indefinite number of loops are skewered on one or more wires or needles. The method on which the machine is worked v/ill be easily comprehended byaid of the accompanying diagram (fig. 1), which represents a few of Lee's peculiar barbed needles from a frame with yarn in process of knitting. At R is seen a thread of yarn passed over the needle stalks and within the terminal hooks. The yarn, it will be ob-served, is waved or depressed between each pair of needles, whereby sufficient yarn is secured to form the separate loops of uniform size, and thus produce a regular equal fabric. The waving or depression of the yarn is produced by allowing thin plates of shaped metal termed sinkers to fall between each pair of needles after the yarn has been thrown across the whole range, and these sinkers, according to their depth of fall, carry down material for a large or small loop as the case may be. The elastic points of the needle-hooks are next pressed into a groove in the stem by means of a presser bar which acts on the whole row of barbs, and thus a range of temporarily closed metallic hooks is formed, through which the waved yarn is threaded. Over these hooks the loops of the already formed web SS have only to be drawn to form with the material R a new series of loops; the pressure is then relieved, and now R forms a new row in the work in place of S, and the operation is ready to be repeated for a succeeding row. It is not necessary here to enter into a description of the various mechanical devices by which Lee perfected the complex movements of his stocking-frame. It is sufficient to say that so perfectly did he succeed in his adaptations that to this day the essential features of his machine continue in use for the class of work to which he applied it. At first Lee was only able to work a flat even web, which when joinedat the selvages made an unshapen cylinder; but he soon learned to shape the work at pleasure by removing loops from time to time from the outer edges of the web for narrowing or taking in, and to reverse that process for widening or letting out.

Neither Lee nor any of his relatives during their lifetime reaped an adequate reward for the great boon he conferred on mankind. His stocking-frame came gradually into extensive use, and an important industry was thereby created. No improvement of essential consequence was effected on the apparatus till in 1758 Mr Jedediah Strutt, originally a Derbyshire farmer, adapted it to the production of ribbed work. Mr Strutt's invention consisted of an addition to the original frame, which could be brought into use or not according as plain or ribbed work was desired. The addition consisted of a set of ribbing-needles placed at right angles to Lee's plain needles, and at the intervals required for producing ribbed courses. On the completion of a row of plain loops, the rib needles are raised; at their respective intervals they lay hold of the last-formed loop, and, bringing that through the loop which was on the rib-needle itself before, they give an additional or double loop-ing or twisting, which reverses the line of chaining, and produces the ribbed appearance characteristic of this variety of work. For his invention Strutt in conjunction with his brother-in-law Woollett, a hosier, secured a patent, and they commenced the manufacture at Derby, where theif " Derby-ribs " became exceedingly popular. The idea of adding parts to the plain frame of Lee, thus originated by Strutt, became the fertile source of a great number of the later adaptations and modifications of the apparatus. Strutt's invention was the starting-point of a great and most honourable business in the hands of himself and his family, and the elevation of his grandson, Lord Belper, to the peerage was a direct tribute to the industrial interests of the nation.

Down till almost the middle of this century only a flat web could be knitted in the machines in use, and for the finishing of stockings, &c, it was necessary to seam up the selvages of web shaped on the frame (fashioned work), or to cut and seam them from even web (cut work). The introduction of any device by which seamless garments could be fabricated was obviously a great desideratum, and it is a singular fact that a machine capable of doing that in a perfect manner should have been patented in 1816, while it was not seen in actual use in Nottingham, the capital of the hosiery trade, till 1845. The inventor of the round stocking-frame was no other than Sir Marc I. Brunei, who in 1816 patented his machine under the name of the Tricoteur. In Brunei's apparatus the needles are fixed on the rim of a rotating wheel. The yarn is delivered, the loops formed, the beards of the needles pressed down, and all the other operations performed by means of a series of arms and wheels which act on the circumference of the ring or circle of needles. As the working of such a machine is continuous, and as several sets of wheels and arms may work simultaneously around a ring of sufficient diameter, Brunei's machine was really capable of doing work with very great rapidity. He appears not, however, to have regarded his invention as worthy of being pushed into notice, and it was not till 1845 that in an improved form it was brought forward as an original invention by Mr Peter Claussen, who, however, reaped no profit from his undoubted ingenuity and merit.

Another improvement of very great importance in the hosiery trade was effected through the invention of the tumbler needle, patented by Mr M. Townsend in 1858. The tumbler needle (fig. 2) consists of a stem some-what bulged near the point. The bulged part contains a groove in which there is hinged a short pin. The pin is so placed that, when turned to the hooked or curved point, its own point falls into a spoon-like indent, t thus forming a smooth metal loop. When 10 reversed the pin falls into the groove of J!\_ <«. the stem, making a smooth stalk. In this "If % Tfiw! way, as will be clear from the figure, /111 when the yarn is caught in the curved | \ \ + point of the needles, the already formed I I ,, I ¡1 loops in being brought forward to pass t off the needles carry forward the hinged pin and close the steel loop, over which II they pass quite smoothly. The newly- i formed loop then pushes over the tumbler (| J [ pin into its groove, and the hook is once more ready to seize the yarn as it passes Fis' 2" along. The tumbler needle and the revolving frame to-gether form the basis of the various domestic machines which are now in the market. In machines in which the tumbler needle is adopted the needles themselves move in grooves, each being carried forward in succession as the feed of yarn comes opposite its position.

The varieties of frame now in use are embraced under narrow hand-machines, wide hand-machines, power rotary-frames, and power round-frames, the first two being exclu-sively used in the houses of the operatives, while the latter are factory machines driven by steam. " It will be an explanation of some interest," says the late Mr Felkin, in a paper before the British Association (Nottingham meeting, 1866), "to those who are strangers to the process of these trades, to state that the hand-knitter of a stocking, if assiduous and clever, will knit 100 loops a minute, and that Lee on his first machine made 1000 of worsted, and on his second 1500 loops of silk per minute. The visitor may now see on the round frame, patented by Brunei in 1816, but since modified and improved, without any effort but to supply yarn, 250,000 loops of the finest textures made, in various colours, per minute, with safety,—an advance of 2500-fold upon the hand-knitter."

The principle centre of the hosiery trade of the United Kingdom is Nottingham town and county; and in Leicester-shire and Derbyshire the industry is also of importance. It was computed by Mr Felkin that the English hosiery trade gave employment in 1866 to about 150,000 persons, of whom about 100,000 were occupied in the preliminary and finishing operations of winding, cutting, mending, seaming, &c. At that time the industry was largely domestic, frames being hired out to operatives; but the trade tends steadily towards factories. According to a parliamentary return issued 31st July 1879, there were in the United Kingdom 186 hosiery factories, giving employment to 14,992 persons, 6683 males and 8309 females. Of these, 175 factories were in England, 10 in Scotland, and 1 in Ireland; and centred in Nottingham, Leicester, Lincoln, Rutland, and Derbyshire there were 173 of the establishments employing 13,680 of the operatives. The exports in 1878, which of course represent only a small proportion of the total output, amounted in value to £860,318. In the United States the industry is conducted on a manufacturing scale in New York State, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, Connecticut, and Maine ; besides which family machines are extensively employed in that country. In Saxony also the trade is an important industrial feature, and there its development has been strikingly rapid. Throughout France, Spain, and Italy there are numerous frames at work, and indeed the trade may be regarded as in some degree commensurate with civilized industrial communities. (J. PA.)

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