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The Rise of the Knitting Machine

In today’s modern era of fast fashion, we rely on mass-produced clothing and knitwear that are readily available. The Industrial Revolution mechanized the garment industry making it possible for garments to be created quickly and less expensively. It fundamentally changed the knitting industry forever.

Antique knitting machine


The first knitting machine was invented in 1589 in Great Britain by William Lee. Early knitting machines were mainly used to create stockings but were only able to create flat pieces of cloth without any shaping. The cloth produced was then seamed together to create the stocking. While indeed faster, the quality of cloth produced by early knitting machines was often rough and the seams did not hold well, as a result, they were not widely used. Over time, Pierre Jeandeau invented the latch which greatly improved the quality of the knitting and also allowed for some shaping. Later, Marc Brunel invented the circular knitting machine and Jacquard cards were used to improve quality, as well as, shaping. The improvements allowed machine knitters to gain flexibility in what could be knit.

Old circular knitting machine

While large-scale machine knitting did move to factory settings, families also used smaller versions in the home. The knitting cottage industry was still alive and well. The knitting machine increased the number of items, as well as, the speed at which families were able to produce them.

Modern Use

Today, machine knitting is in widespread use by the fashion industry. Home knitting machines are also widely available. They have vastly improved in their abilities since their origins but still have some limitations in what stitches they can produce. One machine cannot do everything. There are circular and flat knitting machines with attachments or settings that are used to create different stitches. However, the home knitting machine does allow the user to create high-quality garments and accessories in a fraction of the time it would take to hand-knit them.

The mechanization of knitting during the rise of the Industrial Revolution truly changed the face of the garment industry forever. While improvements to the knitting machine have certainly made it possible to create intricate and beautiful garments, I would argue that the mass production of these garments takes away one’s ability to create a truly unique and well-fitted garment. There are many benefits to having clothing readily available, but the waste and environmental harm that is created by fast fashion should also be noted.



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