Carothers discovers Nylon

24 Oct 1939
Del Wilmington, First sale of Nylon stockings

15 May 1940
"Nylon Day" Four million pairs Sold in four days.

Aug 1945
Nylon stocking production is resumed after the war and tries to meet an ever increasing demand.

1945 – 1955
The full-fashioned seamed stocking reigns as the premier stocking

The seamless stocking starts to replace the fully-fashioned stocking.

1965 – 1970
Seamless stocking lose ground to tights/pantyhose

1970 – 1980
Suspenders and stockings disappears nearly totally disappear

Only a few mills left in the world still producing Fully Fashioned Nylon Stockings

History of Stockings
Socks & Stockings also known as hosiery are coverings for legs and feet.

Greek workmen and slaves wore hosiery in ancient times, and Roman woman wore a short sock (called a soccus) in their homes.

In 12th century Europe the breeches worn by men became close fitting, reaching from the waist to the foot like modern tights. They were held up at the waist with laces. Woman wore stockings held up above the knee by garters.

After 1545 knitted stockings came into fashion, their seams often being covered by elaborate silk patterns, or “clocks”.

William Lee, an English clergyman, made the first knitting machine in 1589.

Silk Stockings were sometimes worn several pairs at a time in cold weather. In the 17th century, when large boots were in fashion, linen “boot hose” were worn to protect the silk stockings underneath. They had wide lace tops, which were turned over the boots. Men continued to wear silk stockings with garters until the end of the 18th century, but then long trousers began to appear and socks have been worn underneath ever since.

In the 19th century machine-made cotton stockings became available for women. After World War I (1914-1918) short skirts were fashionable and long silk stockings were worn again.

Nylon stockings became popular after World War II (1939-1945) and eventually almost completely replaced the silk stocking. Until the 1960’s they usually had seams. They were knitted flat and “fully fashioned” which means that they were shaped to fit the leg by decreasing the number of stitches towards the ankle.

Seamless stockings are made on a circular knitting machine and are shaped by tightening the stitches. Hosiery is often described as being of a particular “denier”, which means the thickness of the yarn. The gauge describes the number of stitches in a row.

In the 1960's when skirts were worn very short, many woman began to wear tights (pantyhose) instead of stockings.

Definition of terms: (also see Glossary)

This is an Italian measure which equals 5 centigrams. The weight of the denier is obtained by weighing a 450 meter of thread of nylon, silk or rayon. If 450 meters weight 5 grams, the thread is called a 100 denier thread. The base of 450 meters being the standard measure, the weight of the thread will determine its caliber. The lighter the thread (the less number of deniers) the finer the weave. 15 deniers is thus twice as fine as 30.

Gauge is an English unit of measure. It is a characteristic of rectilinear knitting machines. It corresponds to the number of needles in a 38 millimeter section of the width. Thus a 60 gauge knitting machine has 60 needles to a 38 mm section. It is obvious the more needles you have in this standard invariable 38 mm section, the finer the needles are and the tighter the weave will be. The mono filament or flat pure nylon thread of 15 deniers was the thread most widely used in the knitting of fine stockings.

When it appeared around the fifties it so enhanced and advantaged the curves of the leg that this magic thread was given the name Crystal. It was usually knitted on a 60 gauge machine.

Full-fashioned stockings are knitted flat, then fashioned, or shaped, by hand manipulation and hand seamed up the back. Knitting is back and forth across the fabric (weft knitting) on a straight-bar machine invented in Loughborough, Leicestershire, Eng., by William Cotton in 1864.

The stocking is started at the top with the welt, with an extra-thick section for gartering. Reducing the number of needles at the ankle, then adding needles at the heel, and again reducing the number through the foot shape to the fabric.

The fully-fashioned machinery was made from 1940 - 1960 by a company called “Reading” by Reading Machinery Company, Reading, Pennsylvania, who stopped production of the machines in the early 1960’s, in the years '59 and early 60's, you COULD purchase one of the later models, which they had deemed the R100, BUT, you had to order 4 of them. They would tool up and make them, if you would place an order for 4 or more. The cost was a little over £300,000 each for this special order.

The length is about 45 feet long, makes 30 stockings at the same time. The company started out in it's early days making a single section (or 1) which made 1 stocking. Then, added length, to make 15 (half section machines) stockings, and then went to full section machines (30 stockings).

A 60 gauge machine, with a full head of needles, has about 600 needles per head. Now, 600 X 30 Heads comes to 18,000 needles. These needles cost approx 2 pence each. Now, 18,000 X 2=£3600 in needles alone approx.

Temperature Control:
51 Gauge machines will run cold or hot. The tolerances are not nearly as precise as the 60 Gauge. These 60 gauge have more needles at a closer tolerance than do the 51's, and you have a closer tolerance on the set up, or gaugeing. You have to keep the Temperature (summer and winter) within 4 degrees, 74 to 78 degrees. Try this sometimes. When it gets below 74, they won't knit properly, over 78 and they won't knit properly. You may have 5 or 6 good stockings out of 30. You will have to throw out the rest.

Every pattern is on a continual chain of 120 feet and about 8" wide which has studs pressed into the links. These studs tell the machine what it should do, so every design needs a new stud pattern, which is a huge operation.

After manufacture each stocking is seamed, one at a time. People often ask why there is a hole at the top of the seam. This is called 'the finishing loop'” which cannot be eliminated, as the seaming machinist has to finish the seam turning the stocking top (called ‘the welt’) in a circle.

Every stocking is manufactured white and must be color dyed. They must then be 'Boarded' where each stocking is pulled over a flat wooden leg and steamed. This tightens the knit, defines the leg shape correctly and removes creases.

Thereafter each stocking is checked for size to ensure that pairs match. Quality control for faults large and small can mean a third of production can be lost.

Original Reading Knitting Machine, one of the actual one that knits out Fully Fashioned Nylon Stockings

Modern day knitting machine

This article and its contents are © 2000 to Lawrence Roe all rights reserved
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