In 1878, Kidder invented a modern type of rib frame. Many improvements have, of course, since been made.
Lee’s bearded needle machine, consisting of a series of hook wires with slots or grooves into which the point of the hook was pressed, were used until 1849, when Matthew Townsend of Leicester, England, invented the self-acting or latch needle which revolutionized the knitting industry. Townsend died in poverty in America and while no monument was erected to his memory, his latch needle is used today in most hosiery mills the world over. Thompson of Leicester commenced the manufacture of the first latch needle machines in 1856.
The seamless hosiery machine is an American invention. The hand machine was first produced in 1870 and the semi-automatic power machine in 1880. America has been foremost in the production of plain automatics, although the invention of the automatic rib knitting machine was evolved in Great Britain by Stretton & Johnson of Leicester in 1900. This machine is still built exclusively in England.
Previous to 1900 the product of the seamless hosiery machines was of a coarse nature. Hosiery of the finer grades whether in [isles or silks was always full fashioned. Since that time a marked improvement has taken place and today the better makes of seamless hosiery compare favorably with the full fashioned article. Seamless hosiery has been changed from the coarse rough fabric fitting loosely around the ankle and tightly around the leg to a perfectly fitting stocking with a smooth and faultless fabric.
This steady advance in seamless hosiery manufacturing may be attributed to these several factors:
- The big demand for finer gauge stockings.
- The use of long garters, thus enabling the stocking to be held tight.
- The development of hosiery knitting cylinders cut so fine chat many more needles could be placed in these cylinders.
- The art of so skilfully handling fine yarns that the actual size of the stitch may be changed as desired from a tight stitch in the foot and ankle to a loose stitch in the top.
Led by the ingenuity of knitting machine companies, of which the firm of Scott & Williams was most conspicuous, seamless hosiery machine manufacturers had brought about many improvements such as that of changing yarn at speed, of knitting the welt automatically, of shaping the toe and foot, of automatically transferring from a plain to a ribbed fabric and of automatically mock-seaming the stocking. The advance in this class of hosiery has been so great and the quality so improved that today many of the very best stockings are being produced upon automatic seamless hosiery machines.
These important changes greatly stimulated the seamless hosiery industry in the United States and for the past several years the annual machine production would supply more than one pair of stockings for every man, woman and child in America.
New and wonderful machines have taken the place of the old hand frame, and instead of the primitive product of black or white, cotton or wool, every textile fibre and every combination of color is employed to give wear and effect, lustre and appearance. Fashion has made stockings a most conspicuous part of modern wearing apparel. The well dressed woman of today demands stockings as carefully designed and chosen as her frocks. And as it did one hundred years ago, Ipswich Hosiery is meeting these style demands and the needs of human feet.