The New International Encyclopædia/Knitting

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KNITTING (from knit, AS. cnyttan, cnittan, to knit, from cnotta, knot). The art of forming a fabric out of a single thread by means of needles on which the thread is placed in a succession of loops arranged in rows so that each loop in one row passes through the adjacent loop in the preceding row. Knitting is a more recent invention than the kindred art of netting, with which it is sometimes confused. In both knitting and netting but one thread is used, but in the latter the thread is not looped, but is knotted into itself at definite intervals to form a mesh. (See Nets.) Knitting and netting both differ from weaving, because in weaving there are two sets of threads, the longitudinal or warp threads, and the filling or weft threads, which pass in and out at right angles to the warp. Braiding is a still different process, in which the threads, all longitudinal, are woven diagonally in and out of each other. The advantage possessed by knitted goods over all other fabrics is their great elasticity, which enables them to fit snugly irregular outlines.

The time and place at which the art of knitting was invented is a matter of dispute. The weight of evidence remains in favor of Scotland. From Scotland knitted stockings found their way to France, where a guild of stocking-knitters was formed who chose for their patron saint Saint Fiacre of Scotland.

The needles used in hand knitting are made of steel, wood, bone, rubber, or other substance. Those of steel are usually pointed at both ends, while those of other materials have a point at one end and a round knob at the other. The following technical terms are used in knitting: To cast on is to make the first row of loops or stitches on the needle. To cast off is to knit two stitches and then pass the first over the second, securing the last stitch by drawing the yarn through it. A purl, seam, or rib is formed by bringing the wool in front of the needle in knitting. To widen is to increase the number of stitches. To slip a stitch is to take a stitch off ihe needle without either knitting or purling. For further definitions and a full description of the various styles of hand knitting, consult Roseyear's Text-book on Knitting. Hand knitting, except as a light form of ladies' ‘fancy work,’ is no longer practiced, having been completely superseded by the more rapid and economical method of knitting by machinery.

Knitting by Machinery. It is probable that the first knitting-machine or stocking-frame was invented in less than a century after the art of knitting by hand had been learned. The invention was made by William Lee of Nottinghamshire, England, in 1589. The first knitting-machine was a very simple affair, but its complicated modern successor depends for its efficiency upon the same essential principle as Lee's stocking-frame. This, in turn, was modeled after the process of hand knitting which originated it. In knitting by hand the thread is formed in a succession of loops on a knitting-needle; each of these loops has, in succession, another loop passed through it by means of another and similar needle, and this operation is carried on successively until the whole fabric is made.

In Lee's stocking-frame, instead of one needle to hold the stationary loop while those of the moving row are being inserted, there are as many needles as there are to be loops in the breadth of the web, and these are so made as to alternately form and give off the loops. Each needle terminates in a hook or small indentation. The other end of the needle is fixed into a casting formed to fit into a frame and be securely fastened, side by side with the rest of the needles. Between the needles are placed thin plates called sinkers in two rows; in one row the sinkers move freely on an axis; in the other they are all fixed to a bar and move with it. The object of the loose ones, or jack-sinkers, is to make loops by pressing the thread down beneath the needles. The other row on the bar, or lead sinkers, is brought down so as to press simultaneously on the hooks of the needles, and press their points down into the little depression so that they will pass through the loops without catching one way, and take them up when opened and drawn in the contrary direction. The great ingenuity of Lee's invention lies in this arrangement for closing the hook in the needle so that one loop can be drawn through another. No improvement of importance was made in Lee's stocking-frame until 1758, when Jedediah Strutt added a second series of needles, by the use of which it was possible to produce ribbed or seamed knitting. All the earlier machines produced a flat web; but in 1816 Marc L. Brunel invented a circular knitting-machine which produced a tubular web. Power was applied to the knitting-machine by Bailey in 1831. The latch needle was patented by a Frenchman named Jandeau as early as 1806. A modification of this needle was patented in the United States by Hibbert in 1863. In this needle a hinged latch folds back on the needle, so that the hook may take up the thread, and then closes down over the hook so that it may pass the loop through the preceeding loop. The movement of the latch is regulated by the yarn as it passes through, actuated by the machine.

Circular machines have largely superseded the earlier form, on account of their greater speed and capacity. In these machines “a circular series of vertical parallel needles slide in grooves in a cylinder, and are raised and lowered successively by an external rotating cylinder which has on the inner side cams that act upon the needles.” According to Byrne, from whom the preceding sentence is quoted, about 2000 patents on various forms of knitting machinery had been issued in the United States at the close of the nineteenth century. These patents included attachments for shaping special parts, for finishing off work, and even for raveling waste work.

Growth of the Industry. The remarkable increase in popularity of all forms of knitted fabrics is shown not only by the number of machines which have been invented to produce them, but also by the enormous increase in their production, as shown by the United States Census for 1900. In 1850 there were only 85 establishments, with a combined capital of $554,734, and a combined annual product of $1,028,102, engaged in this industry. During the decade 1851-60 the value of the annual product increased seven times, and in the following decades, 2½, 1½, 2⅓, and 1⅓ times respectively. In 1900 the number of factories for the production of knit goods in the country was 921, with a total capital of $81,860,604, and an annual product valued at $951,482,566. In 1870 the number of knitting-machines reported to be in use was 5625; thirty years later it was 89,047. In the early days of the industry, wool was almost exclusively used for the production of knit goods. A marked increase in the use of other fibres, especially cotton and silk, occurred during the closing decade of the century. In 1890 32,248,849 pounds of cotton yarn were used in the manufacture of knit goods; in 1900 the amount so used had increased to 131,820,068 pounds. The value of silk yarn used for the same purpose in 1900 is estimated at $1,000,000.