How do you make a sweater?

Now with the latest ‘whole garment’ knitting technology, there are 3 basic construction ways to make a sweater. You would think that everyone would be doing the same way, but there are big issues that affect the way your sweater has been manufactured.

Why? because manufacturers have to find a way of solving which of the 3 customer forces are the most important to the end consumer– is it Quality, Price or Leadtime? The usual rule of thumb to remember is that only 2 out of 3 of the forces can be maximised, but never all 3.

For example – to produce the Highest Quality garment in the Fastest Leadtime - will usually mean the Price will be Higher. Or to produce the Lowest Price garment in the Quickest Leadtime, most likely will mean that Lower Quality will need to be accepted.

Although many manufacturers may make big boasts, common sense would tell us that it will be very difficult to produce the Highest Quality garment, in the Fastest Leadtime, at the Lowest price. That would be almost a miracle.

Therefore different methods are used to match which '2 of the 3' demands are most important.

  1. Cut and Sew

  2. Fully Fashioned

  3. Seamless

Each method has pros and cons, and it would be a big mistake to believe that one is superior to the rest, because all that matters is – what does the customer want?? Is it Price? Quality? Leadtime?

Cut and Sew [C&S]

As the name suggests – there is cutting, and there is sewing, to make the garment.

This is the most common method for garment assembly, think of tailors cutting fabric to make shirts, jackets, dresses. When you look inside a C&S garment you will see a sewing seam joining the different pieces of the garment together. Usually it is an overlocking seam, where the stitching covers over the raw cut edge of the fabric so that it looks neat and tidy.

A cut and sew sweater follows the same process. The fabric is knitted, then it is cut to shape and then finally assembled by an overlocking sewing machine.

Pros-

Fabric blanks can be knitted as quickly

cutting of the fabric is quick and so garment can be put into the sewing line rapidly

very fast production leadtime

Cons-

Cutting of shapes from fabric blanks is not efficient, there is leftover fabric waste,

Up to 40% wastage/cut offs

Overlocking seams may not be attractive on very fine fabrics

The Cut and Sew method is very suitable for sweaters using inexpensive yarn, knitted on high volume machines, that can be quickly assembled in very few sewing operations. For example a basic crew neck made in 100% acrylic yarn. This would typically be a low priced item.

Fully Fashioned

This is most common method for knitting sweaters. Instead of knitting wide blanks of fabric to be cut into pieces [C&S], each piece is separately knitted exactly to the required shape. This is called ‘Fashioning’. Therefore a Vee neck fully fashioned sweater would have 5 pieces –

a front body panel,

a back body panel,

a left sleeve and

a right sleeve

a neck trim

These 5 pieces are then sewn together. The usual process is a single chain stitch called ‘linking’ whereby the edges of each panel are meticulously joined together, stitch by stitch. However, the pieces could also be joined by the same sewing machines used for Cut and Sew operations. This is also very common.

The Fully Fashioning method is slower to knit than the C&S blank method and requires more sophisticated knitting machines. However there is little waste which is important when using expensive yarns like cashmere.

Pros-

Seams are very fine

Low wastage of fabric

More sophisticated appearance

Cons-

Linking assembly is slow and requires highly skilled sewing operators

Knitting is slower and must be very accurate.

Up to 7% wastage if vee neck shape is cut out and neck trim is not exact length

Seamless

This is the lastest development in knitting technology. It is the computerised version of the old handknitters technique called ‘knitting in the round. As the name suggests - it is 'seamless'.

Instead of knitting separate pieces like the fully fashioned method, the Seamless machine knits the sleeves and body sections as tubes at the same time and then transfers the pieces together with a knitting technique. When the knitting programme is finished, a complete garment drops out of the machine. This is quite an achievement.

However, at present there are many limitations in the types of knitting fabrics and designs that can be created on a Seamless machine, but for a simple single jersey construction, the concept is very efficient.

Pros-

No seams to be joined

Almost no wastage of fabric- ideal for expensive yarns

Very low labour required

Cons-

Expensive technology

Limited design capabilities

Customers not prepared to pay more for seamless construction

Conclusion

The major knitting machine manufacturers such as Shima Seiki and Stoll, continue to push the limits of knitting construction. Already there are online companies offering limited ‘bespoke’ single piece sweaters for consumers through the use of the latest knitting technology.

But in the end, the market will always dictate the most efficient method of construction to achieve the balance of Quality, Leadtime and Price.

images courtesy of www.knitmelbourne

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