Everyday Knits and How They’re Made
Knits You Touch Every Day
There are a few things we all have in common. One of them is that we get dressed every day. (Okay fine… probably.) We could even get more specific. We all have knitted things in our wardrobe ranging across a variety of gauges. From fine t-shirts and leggings to socks and coarser gauge sweaters. Each of these categories of knits is made using different specialized knitting machines. Share on Facebook.
Gauge (gg) – refers to the size of each stitch. A finer gauge has a larger number of stitches per inch. A coarser gauge has fewer stitches per inch. Just a heads up, hand knitting gauge and machine knitting gauge are two related, but different things. Hand knitting gauge is dependent on three variables, yarn thickness, handling, and needle size. Read more about hand knitting gauge here.
So, what makes something a knit? What’s the different between a knit and a woven? A knit is generally constructed from a series of continuous loops. Without being knotted, bind off, or sewn together at the ends, the loops will unravel. A woven is a configuration of yarns that are laid flat along the warp and the weft is woven back and forth over and under the warp.
Bind off – is a special stitch made at the end of knitting. It locks the open loops of yarn in a configuration similar to a chain stitch.
While wovens are often fixed in extensibility, knits are anisotropic and stretchy! Knits deform easily as we move them and when worn, most knits allow for free range of motion. This is a general assessment. It is true that a lycra woven could stretch and a high tension knit or fused knit could be stable.
Extensibility – refers to the amount a material is capable of being stretched.
Anisotropic – means that the material has a physical property that has a different value along different directions. Fabric behaves differently along the grain, cross-grain, and bias. Some fabrics are more anisotropic than others.
Stretch– seems straightforward, but it can be confusing. Garment stretch might be achieved by the addition of lycra/spandex. It might also stretch based on construction methods, like knitting. Another reason for stretching in fabrics is bias. The bias of a woven has the most stretch as the warp and weft yarns shift in relation to one another.
A stack of tee shirts and tank tops…
There are some things you may not know about this pile of garments. Many of the tee shirts in the market today are made on circular knitting machines. These machines knit yardage of plain jersey fabric to be cut and sewn later into tee shirts.
All knitting machines are made up of a series of needles with a hook at the end, be it a bearded hook, a latch hook, or a compound needle. Circular knitting machines create a seamless tube. This fabric can also be used to make the tee shirts you buy that don’t have side seams. Read more about the Journey of a Tee-shirt here. It should also be noted that tubular knitting can also be achieved on a flat bed knitting machine, described later in this post.
Side seams – are the seams on the sides of the torso that extend from the armhole down. Industry abbreviation for side seams is SS. You’ll see this abbreviation in tech packs and patterns. (If you want to learn more about that, check out my other post: Fundamentals of Patternmaking for Brands.)
Your messy sock drawer…
Socks are knitted on specialized sock knitting machines. This machine is similar to the circular knitting machine used for making the plain jersey yardage for tee shirts. Sock knitting machines have a smaller diameter circular knitting bed optimized for making socks. They also often have attachments for automation. For example, automatic toe closing. The machine in the video below is doing a cast off that closes the toe. Some work a little differently from this and close the toe with an overlock stitch using a similar method.
There might be other interesting things in your sock drawer. Maybe you keep your intimates there. Fabrics like laces, tricots, and power meshes that are used for foundation garments/intimates are made on a warp knitting machine. In warp knitting, each needle has its own yarn, whereas in circular knitting, a continuous yarn is looped around each needle and yarn changes can happen frequently.
The difference between weft knitting (v-bed and most circular knitting machines) and warp knitting:
Warp knitting machines can take up a ton of space and have high set-up cost. This video shows a compact warp knitting machine compared to other versions. It’s still HUGE compared to v-bed knitting machines. These machine has specific design limitations. While the structure of the knit can change drastically in a single garment or textile, the yarns cannot.
A pile of sweaters…
Sweaters are usually knitted on a v-bed knitting machine (also referred to as a flat knitting machine.) Different machines are made to knit different gauges. The needles for a coarser gauge are larger and spaced further apart than they would be for a finer gauge.
Technical knits are specifically made for performance optimization. These are often for active, medical, and automotive. A knit can be precisely constructed for accurate pressure described by units of mmHg. This capability is used to create medical grade compression and foundation garments like Spanx.
MmHg – is an abbreviation that stands for millimeters of mercury. This was a more relevant unit of measure when mercury was used for pressure gauges. It is used in medicine and so medical grade compression is described in mmHg. Learn more about different grades of mmHg here.
Temperature and humidity can affect the diameter of the fibers and swell the fabric overall. Fabrics knit or woven in humid conditions will be dramatically different from those knitted in less humidity. The change is so extreme that medical grade compression socks are knitted inside temperature and humidity controlled chambers.
Many functional knits are made on v-bed knitting machines like the ones used to make sweaters, often at a finer gauge.
Knee braces, like this are a common example of technical knits…
The Flyknit, by Nike is another example of a technical knit.
Don’t store your sweaters on a hanger like this… the corners of the hanger will leave pointed dents in the shoulders of the sweater.
If it must be hung, it’s better to fold the knitted garment and hang it on a trouser hanger.
There is much more to know about knitting! If you’d like to keep learning, keep following the fashion robot. Join our mailing list for weekly updates!
Also check out my post, A Basic Intro to Technical Knitting!