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6. About the History of Hand Flat-Bed Knitting Machines


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In the warp-knitting process, a stitch row with all individual loops forms at once, while in the knitting process, each loop is formed one after another. The main factor leading to mechanical knitting was the invention of the latch needle.

In 1856, the Englishman Matthew Townsend of Leicester received a patent for the latch needle, which was a joint with needles attached to it. With the help of the latch needle, the loop forming process became much easier than with ordinary bearded needles.


The invention of the latch needle by the Englishman Matthew Townsend in 1856 marked the beginning of mechanical knitwear production.


In 1881, the commercial expansion of purl-stitch knitting machines became possible through the invention of the double hook or double latch needle by Durand. Now, the "stitch heads", which were a typical characteristic of the reverse side, could be seen on both sides of purl knitwear.

In reference to the constructional design of knitting machines, flat-bed knitting machines differentiate themselves from circular knitting machines as they can be hand or machine-powered and are very versatile.


The invention of the double latch needle in 1881 enabled the production of patterned purl knitwear.


Hand Flat-Bed Knitting Machines



The first hand-powered flat-bed knitting machine was invented in 1863 by the American Isaac William Lamb. With this machine, the rapid production of tube and rib-knitted fabric became possible. In each row, a plain stitch alternates with a purl stitch. Both sides of the article are identical. Rib knitted fabric has a high degree of cross elasticity and can be stretched by 100%.

In 1864, Lamb's flat-bed knitting machine was improved by the American Henry J. Griswold and marketed under the trademarks "Climax", "Crane" and "Little Rapid". These machines were primarily used by the cottage industry for the production of men's socks and children's stockings. Another improvement to the Lamb machine soon made it possible to narrow stockings and to produce ribbed structures. The production of circular-knit stockings was also possible with the improved flat-bed knitting machine.


First mechanical hand-powered flat-bed knitting machine, invented by the American William Lamb, app. 1863.


In Europe, Henri Eduard Dubied, founder of the Dubied-Werke in Switzerland, was the first manufacturer to take note of the Lamb machine when it was displayed at the World Expo in Paris in 1867. Dubied acquired the patent for the machine in order to begin the production of knitting machines in his Swiss factory.

In 1867, Dubied introduced his first flat-bed knitting machine, called the "Trikoteuse Omnibus".


First European hand-powered flat-bed knitting machine, made by the Swiss company Eduard Dubied, app. 1867.


American as well as European machines were built narrowly so that they could only be used for the production of stockings and socks. Towards the end of the 1860's, knitting machine factories began appearing in Germany and France as well. These factories specialized in the construction of flat-bed knitting machines, which were by then also being used in industrial manufacturing companies. In Germany, the company "Laue und Timaeus" (which later became Irmscher & Co., Dresden) was the first to build knitting machines based on the Lamb system.


Catalog of the Swiss Knitting Machine Factory Eduard Dubied, Couvet, app. 1905.


In 1870, changes made to the cam construction in flat-bed knitting machines allowed the production of circular-knit stockings. Because there was no method for knitting the heels, it remained a problem to produce whole stockings and socks, though. This problem was taken care of in 1888 with the invention of the tubular cam by G. F. Grosser in Markersdorf.

The first simple hand-powered flat-bed knitting machines were constructed for home use, the cottage industry and - in part - for factories.


Advertisement for knitted goods made with flat-bed knitting machines by the cottage industry, app. 1890.


In 1879, the knitting machine factory "Laue und Timaeus, Dresden" was able to convert hand-powered flat-bed knitting machines into design knitting machines, thus enabling the production of patterned goods. At the same time, devices for producing multi-colored jacquard patterns emerged.


Flat-bed knitting machine with foot pedal, app. 1890.


Motorized Flat-Bed Knitting Machines



The introduction of the electric motor repressed the movement of the hosiery industry towards large factories since it also allowed smaller companies to utilize efficient machines. At first, many machines were still operated by large motors or electric motors using line shaft drive. But with the increasing availability of electricity and the decreasing prices of motors, machines with separate drive began to assert themselves.


One of the first motorized flat-bed knitting machines made by the company H. Stoll, Reutlingen, Germany, app. 1878.


Motorized flat-bed knitting machines did not gain importance until the early 1880's. However, they were known as semi-automatic machines since the switching from one production step to another and the widening or narrowing still had to be done by hand.

In 1886, the technician Albin Beyer patented a method which mechanized the narrowing or widening process. His method involved letting down and transmitting stitches to latch needles.


Motor or line shaft-powered flat-bed knitting machines for the production of circular-knit stockings, G. F. Grosser, Markersdorf, Germany, app. 1880.


This invention played a key role in the further development of flat-bed knitting machines. The company Seyfert und Donner, Chemnitz, recognized the importance of this invention and acquired the patent from Beyer, which gave them the exclusive rights for this method. A short time later they marketed the first narrowing knitting machine with several needle heads based on the Cotton patent frame. This interesting power machine enabled the automated production of fully-fashioned plain and patterned stockings.


Automatic narrowing flat-bed knitting machine, G.F. Grosser, Markersdorf, Germany, app. 1890.


In 1900, the company Stoll in Reutlingen, Germany, patented a flat purl-knitting machine which enabled efficient production and met the great demand of the hosiery industry for a handy and powerful machine to produce purl knitwear.


First flat purl knitting machine, H. Stoll, Reutlingen, Germany, 1900.


In 1910, automatic, motorized lengthening machines replaced the older, hand-powered flat-bed knitting machines. However, these machines were not able to produce the foot and length of the stocking in a single production step. The foot was attached using a footing machine - initially with small, hand-powered devices and then in the circular knitting process, the feet were knit onto the pre-fabricated stocking lengths. This production method for "Standard Stockings", e.g. flat-knit stocking lengths with separately attached feet, lasted until well into the 1970's. The last industrial consumer for fully-fashioned knit stockings was the German Bundeswehr (Armed Forces).


Motorized flat-bed knitting machine with four individual needle heads, Eduard Dubied, Couvet, Switzerland, which received the gold medal at the World Expo in Paris in 1900.


Motorized flat-bed knitting machine, Eduard Dubied, Couvet, Switzerland, app. 1905.