The Significance of Wholegarment© Technology


For this week’s Blog, we have an extract from Dr Annie Shaw’s thesis Crafting the Technological: Ganseys and Wholegarment© Knitting (2009). We will be publishing more extracts from this relevant and fascinating thesis over the next few weeks – watch this space for more to come on knitwear manufacture.

The development of Wholegarment© knitting machine technology (WGT) by the Japanese company Shima-Seiki and other developments by the German Manufacturer Stoll in the mid-1990s signified a true paradigm shift for the manufacture and design of garments. Up until then, with the exception of hand-knitted garments, some underwear and accessories, knitted clothes have been manufactured by the joining of separate, shaped 20 pieces to form a 30 shape.

The technology meant that knitted garments could now be made quickly and seamlessly. The possibilities opened up by this new way of making clothes and the implications for education but more specifically for design indicated a fascinating focus for research.

WGT has significant impact on the way clothes can be manufactured. The hypothesis began to develop that ultimately a whole new way of garment making, which builds upon seamless technology could be explored and developed; by eliminating the cost and time the joining up processes take, efforts and “added value” could be focussed in other ways. After reviewing other research in the field (of seamless knitting) and taking into consideration the existing skills and interests of the researcher the conclusion was reached that it was best to concentrate efforts on design possibilities post-knitting. No other identifiable research was being carried out in this specific area. This is fully explained in the literature and contextual reviews.

Seamless Garments Old and New

Knitwear can uniquely combine the making of a textile and a garment in one operation. Traditionally-made knitted ganseys (fisherman’s jumpers), caps, socks and gloves do not have seams. They are made three-dimensionally “in the round” due to the looped structure of knitted cloth and the possibility of leaving stitches in a “holding” position it is possible to “graft” or grow on fullness or to introduce suppression at any point in the garment. This can be combined with integral surface patterning. Ganseys have distinct and symbolic patterning created by the use of plain and purl stitching.

The process of hand knitting a gansey is skilled, difficult and time-consuming. There are then, obvious links between the traditional hand-crafted methods and techniques of making a seamless garment and what the new technology is capable of mass-producing. The machines will produce a totally seamless garment with integral patterning. They work by transferring stitches between four beds and this enables ribs and purl stitch patterns to be knitted within a tube. This means that the Shima Seiki Wholegarment© machines have a particular affinity for purl stitch patterning (like ganseys).

The scope that the new technology offers in terms of time saved and economic benefits means that the potential for exploring the intrinsic beauty of an integrated garment (i.e., totally knitted) has become a real opportunity for contemporary designers. The traditional craft techniques used in 3D garment making seem worthy of timely revaluation.


Dr Annie Shaw, Principal Lecturer Design and Research Degrees Coordinator (Design) at Manchester Metropolitan University

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