Author: Anne Emlein

In celebration of the third annual New York Textile Month, members of the Textile Society of America will author Object of the Day for the month of September. A non-profit professional organization of scholars, educators, and artists in the field of textiles, TSA provides an international forum for the exchange and dissemination of information about textiles worldwide.

On the first day of my Machine Knitting Techniques classes at Rhode Island School of Design, I always tell my students that the most important properties of knitting are that it stretches, it can be shaped during the making process, and it creates negligible waste. Created under the design direction of Jörg Hartmann and manufactured by H. Stoll AG & Co this seamless, fully-fashioned sports top exemplifies those characteristics.

People are often surprised to learn that knitting is among the youngest of the textile techniques. The earliest existing examples of knitting as we know it today — elaborate patterned socks from Egypt- date to around 1100 CE. Given their relative sophistication, we can assume knitting debuted some time earlier, perhaps around 1000 CE. From Egypt, knitting moved into Europe via Spain, where it was used to create liturgical garments for the Catholic Church. By the 14th century, the technique had spread into central Europe, and by the end of the 16th century, knitting guilds were being established across the continent.

In 1589, the knitting frame or knitting machine was invented by an English minister named William Lee. To protect the livelihood of her loyal subjects, Queen Elizabeth I banished the knitting machine. However, Reverend Lee secretly shipped his machine to his brother in France, where it was put into production. Ultimately, it was the beginning of the mass manufacturing of knits, and of the highly advanced digital and technical production of knits that are being developed today.

H. Stoll AG & Co. specializes in highly sophisticated technology in flat knitting machines as well as state of the art software solutions. The result is cutting-edge knitted fabrics for fashion, performance and technical applications, such as the sports top designed by Hartmann. To my mind, there is a wonderful connection between the sophistication of Stoll technology, and traditional knitting techniques. Hand-knitters have long understood the advantages of circular knitting, allowing the creation of a seamless garment with minimal assembly. Short-rowing is also a technique employed by savvy hand-knitters to insure sophisticated and customized fit. As both a hand knitter and a machine knitter, it is satisfying to realize that the sports top in the Performance+ collection created through advanced Stoll technology is knitted in one piece, and uses goring, known to hand-knitters as short-rowing or partial knitting. Yet, through complex technologies, variable stitch density gives extra support to the wearer. A compression band under the cups provides increased comfort, while the remainder of the ribcage remains highly flexible. Knit meshes throughout the chest and upper back promote moisture transfer. A knitted-in pocket even holds a removable NFC chip or other electronic device.

Knitwear has long played a role in sportswear. Knitted bathing suits, tennis sweaters, ski sweaters and skating costumes began to replace more cumbersome woven sports attire by the 1900s. In 1953, Edmund Hillary wore a Shetland woolen sweater knitted by T.M. Adie and Sons of Voe, Scotland under his mountain suit, relying on the properties of wool for maximum warmth. Today, knitted fabrics such as this sports top, are made from virgin wool, lycra, polyamide and polyester to create a highly performance based garment, striving for comfort and maximum performance, waste reduction, and minimal manual labor. Hence, ultimate knitting technology for ultimate performance!

Anne Emlein is adjunct faculty in the Textile Department at Rhode Island School of Design where she teaches machine knitting techniques.

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