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Original Reading Knitting Machine


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 ($520,000.00) 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).

Modern day knitting machine
Circular Knit - The major knitting method in hosiery construction today. Yarn is knitted into hose as a cylindrical tube, later the end is sewn closed for the toe area.

Hosiery History

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.Unfortunately he was not taken seriously in England and the Patent was issued in France.

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.

Follow this link forSilk Stockings Production

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:


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 calibre. 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 Yarn

Flat Yarn - This term is often used by knitters and coverers to indicate raw yarn they use and was the only yarn available prior to the 1970s. Flat yarns have no stretch unless they are textured. Modern stockings do not utilize this yarn and therefore do have stretch but give up the sheen as well as the slick silky feel of vintage stockings. 

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=£360.00 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 gauging. 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 dyed to the desired color. 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.


Boarding - Socks: In this operation the sock is stretched either dry or moist over flat metal or wooden forms conforming to the desired sock shape and size. It is then pressed between two heated surfaces. This gives the sock form a smooth appearance. It is a process similar to ironing. Sheers: A full-shaped heat setting operation in which stockings and pantyhose are put on metal leg forms for a specific size and shape and then dried in a steam cabinet. The process is done after dyeing. The term "boarding" stems from the olden days when wooden boards were used to dry stockings

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.

Parts of This article and it contents are © 2003 to Lawrence Roe all rights reserved and The Hosiery Association

Bootleg Nylons
Readers Digest, February 1945

Watch out for the fellow who offers to sell you "nylon" hosiery! There isn't any.

No mere man can fully understand the power of nylon stockings over women's minds, hearts, and consciences. But a lot of men are busy exploiting this feminine weakness.

Foremost example: Uncle Sam. The only legitimate purchaser of nylon hosiery in the world is the U.S. Government. No, the stockings aren't "sent to Iceland on lend-lease," as reported in a silly story that was repeated on the floor of Congress. They travel a much more devious route.

Our secret agents overseas discovered that a half dozen pairs of sheer nylons would buy more information from certain mysterious women in Europe and North Africa than a fistful of money. After all, what could the ladies buy with money in the empty shops of the Old World? So several large hosiery mills, which had made no nylons since Pearl Harbor, received substantial orders from Washington; the necessary yarn, they were informed, would be available. Pleasantly surprised, they turned out the merchandise -- the only nylons legitimately manufactured in years.

Nevertheless, enough American women want nylon stockings at any price, in contempt of law, and with callous indifference to our soldiers' needs for other nylon goods, to support a sizable black market. It is some satisfaction to record that the black market operators give the women a merciless stinging.

Thirteen cases of raw nylon en route from the Du Pont factory in Martinsville, Va., to a parachute yarn plant in Winston-Salem, N.C., were stolen from a motor-freight terminal in Greensboro, N.C. Accepting the thin story that the nylon was salvage from a warehouse fire, two manufacturers made it up into hosiery. It was spread as far as possible by making the feet and tops of cotton. But these skimpy makeshift stockings sold readily for $5 a pair to bootleggers, who in turn got $10 a pair from customers, male and female, hexed by the magic word "nylon." The nylon yarn was worth $7800; it was made into $140,000 worth of stockings.

FBI and OPA agents arrested three men. One, a former official of a trucking company, was fined $5,000 and is serving a two-year prison term. The two hosiery mill men were fined $12,000 each and placed on 18 months' probation. The Government agents managed to seize 5,000 pairs of hose before they could be peddled. These, by court order, were sold at the OPA ceiling prime of $ 1.65 a pair in the office of the U.S. Marshal in Greensboro. The sale was to begin at ten o' clock in the morning. At 5 a.m. the queue began to form; when the doors opened, the line of women, four abreast, extended four city blocks. Half of them went away disappointed.

Much more intricate was another scheme for black market nylons. A silk mill in Pennsylvania got a contract to convert raw nylon into thread for glider towropes. Part of the raw nylon was systematically snitched, and accounted for in reports to the WPB as "spoilage." The "spoiled" nylon was transported to three hosiery mills whose owners were in the plot. When the FBI cracked down, it found 10,320 pairs of nylons in one warehouse, 6,500 unfinished pairs in another, enough thread to make 36,000 pairs more. Four men were indicted.

Most patrons of the nylon black market are stung in two ways: they pay fantastic prices and they do not get nylon. Travelers, and even professional merchandise buyers who should know better, have bought "Mexican nylon" in quantities. Sometimes they have misleading names, such as "carbonyl."

Dozens of pairs have turned up for laboratory analysis at the New York headquarters of the National Association of Hosiery Manufacturers. They're just rayon. You can get them at any hosiery counter in the United States; ceiling price, $1.25.

An Omaha store imported 1,680 pairs of these "nylons" in good faith and advertised them at $2.25, plus $1.85 for customs duty. The Better Business Bureau had a pair analyzed and thus convinced the merchant he had been victimized. The stockings were withdrawn from sale.

The lengths to which the gyps will go is indicated by the troubles of the Van Raalte Company. It is getting a stream of complaints about hosiery bought as nylon, stamped with the Van Raalte name and the nylon trademark and, most convincing, made with the patented Van Raalte toe. Some victims bought the counterfeits in Mexico City, some bought them from bootleggers in the U.S.; but it seems plain that the imitations were all made in Mexico.

The small amount of honest nylon wastage or spoilage that does occur in war production is allotted to manufacturers of underwear, brassieres and girdles -- never to hosiery mills. Every retailer should know that there just isn't any nylon hosiery to be had. Still, when George M. Toney wrote to 1,000 stores from a post office box address in Washington, D. C., offering nylons at $7.44 a dozen pairs, he got orders with some $2,000 cash by return mail. There is no guesswork about the money, because postal authorities opened his mail and counted it.

Ruses of the bootleggers show little originality. The driver of a delivery truck, often bearing the name of a well-known shop, stops a woman on the street and tells her that some nylons were put on his truck by mistake. She can have them at $5 (or $10) a pair. Or a peddler drifts into a doctor's office on the pretext of making an appointment. He casually mentions that the parcel in his hand contains nylon stockings -- unfortunately not his wife's size. Could anyone use them? He is typical of the shifty-eyed, furtive nylon bootleggers who canvass office buildings in the big cities.

Perhaps the limit of credulity is reached by the people who buy compounds which, dissolved in water, will "nylonize" rayon stockings. One of the big hosiery manufacturers remarked dryly, "If any chemist has such a formula, he needn't bother with the 25-cent trade. I'll give him $5,000,000 for it in cash."

After the war there will be nylon hosiery, finer, sheerer, stronger, more beautiful than ever before. Designs for the machines to make it are past the blueprint stage. But until the war is over, the Army and Navy need every pound of nylon. There won't be any for stockings except what is stolen. And there won't be much stolen. So, ladies -- don't be suckers.

See an image of the original article. 

Copyright © 1998 The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. All rights reserved.