Knit Basics

History of Knitting


Knitting is one of the earliest methods devised to form yarn into fabric or even garments. Although there is evidence of techniques traced back to 1000 B.C., knitting did not become common until the 15th century. Worn for comfort and style, hand-knitted fabrics became so popular that by 1488 the British Parliament controlled the price of knitted caps. Henry VIII was the first monarch to wear fitted knit stockings instead of loose trousers. Elizabeth I preferred stockings knit of silk. To increase production, in 1589, a British gentleman named William Lee invented the first mechanical knitting frame. Its use transformed the art of knitting. Knitting technology has evolved from the first knitting frame to the high-tech knitting machines we currently use. One of the most significant developments was an ingenious, but simple, addition to the knitting needle itself. A latch that enabled higher production and versatility carries through to today’s textile manufacturing.


Ever growing in popularity, knits are a key entity in the fashion industry. Sportswear calls for form-fitting garments that stretch as the body bends or runs. Casualwear calls for comfortable products that retain their shape and require little effort to maintain. Dresswear demands elegance and simplicity of style. When it comes to apparel, knits are unsurpassed in their broad range of applications.



What Are Knits?


Knitting is the intermeshing of yarn into loops to form a fabric. Compared with woven constructions, which are rigid and stable, knits more easily conform to a change in shape. The intermeshed loops of knits allow for flexibility as they stretch to fit the form. This mobility helps knitted fabrics to maintain a smoother appearance than woven fabrics, and it makes knitted apparel well suited for sports and other active endeavors.


In knitting, there are basically two systems: weft knitting and warp knitting.



Weft Knitting


Weft knitting is accomplished by loops formed in a horizontal manner by adjacent needles.


The most common machine used for weft knitting is the circular knitting machine. The circular knitting machine creates a tube of fabric in a spiral configuration around a cylinder. The width of the fabric is determined by the number of needles on the machine. One revolution of the machine completes one coarse for each yarn fed.


The second type of machine is a flat bed machine. With a flat bed machine, the needles arranged in a straight line on a flat plate called the bed. These machines may have only one bed of needles or two beds opposite each other. Commonly used to produce sweaters, trim, scarves, and similar fabrics.


Regardless of the type of machine used, in weft knitting, needles placed next to each other knit one after another in sequence to produce one row of loops from the same yarn.


Here is an illustration of how loops of yarn are created by a weft knitting machine that knits yarn in a horizontal manner so that the loops are formed from right to left. If you analyze the structure, you see a pattern of loops arranged in rows and columns.


The horizontal row of loops produced by adjacent needles in the same knitting cycle is known as a course. The course count is measured by the number of courses per linear unit, expressed by inches or centimeters.


If this drawing represents a one-inch by one-inch area, you would identify this as 5 courses per inch. The vertical column of loops produced by the same needle knitting at successive knitting cycles is referred to as a wale. The wale count is measured by the number of wales per linear length. In this same drawing, there are 5 wales per inch.



Warp Knitting


Warp knitting, in contrast to weft knitting, is accomplished by forming loops in a vertical direction. If you look closely at an illustration of warp knit, you see that the yarn is intermeshed vertically with two wales.


With warp knitting machines, each individual loop is created from separate lengthwise yarns. Wound onto a beam from yarn packages in a creel, the yarns arranged as a warp must be placed parallel to each other. Normally, for the most basic fabrics, each yarn needs its own needle. If one thousand needles are used on this machine, there needs to be a minimum of one thousand warp yarns. If there is more than one yarn provided for each needle more elaborate fabrics can be produced. With warp knitting, individual needles knit simultaneously across the width of the machine. Loops are formed by needles knitting a series of warp yarns fed vertically and parallel to the direction of the fabric formation. Warp knitting machines are typically used to produce tricot, raschel, and crochet.



TERMS TO KNOW (click to flip)


A method of constructing fabric by interlocking a series of loops of one or more yarns.

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Weft Knitting

Loops formed in a horizontal manner by adjacent needles.

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Circular Knitting

The construction of fabric or garments knitted on a circular knitting machine in tubular form.

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Flat Bed Machine

A weft-knitting machine with needles arranged in a straight line in a flat plate called the bed. These machines may…

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One horizontal row of loops produced by adjacent needles during the same knitting cycle.

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Course Count

The number of courses per linear distance. Normally expressed in courses per inch or courses per 3 cm.

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Warp Knitting

The forming of loops in a vertical column on knitting needles from a beam of yarns.

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