Thursday, July 20, 2017
Why Loopwheel T-shirts So Expensive
On most knit garments today you’ll notice seams running from the armholes down to the hem where the front and back sides were stitched together. Older sweats and those made by high end reproduction brands don’t have those seams, or any really seams at all, because the fabric is created as one whole tube in a process known as “loopwheeling”.
All loopwheeling machines are all vintage from the 1920s. They are all from this period. All of them. The cotton is fed into the machine via gravity, no pulling down, which allows for the lack of excess tension (and very soft hand) that loopwheeled fabric possesses.
The fabric is knit extremely slowly. Like, absurdly massively inefficient slowly. Loopwheeling machines can only knit about 12 meters (about 40 feet) of fabric in a single day, which would only amount to about 8-9 sweatshirts. The fabric must be cut by hand.
Italian inventor Guiseppe Negra patented the process in 1926 and then licensed its use to American sportswear manufacturers like Champion and LL Bean. Hundreds of thousands of those iconic heather grey crewnecks we all know and love out of loopwheeled fleece were produced during the middle of the 20th century.
But as great as loopwheeled fleece is, it’s inefficiency led manufacturers to trade in their machines for modern knitters in the 1950s. No one has produced any more loopwheelers, so all 200 of the operational machines left are pushing 70 years of service or more. The only two loopwheeling operations left in the world are Loopwheeler in Japan’s Wakayama Prefecture and Merz B. Schwanen’s factory in Germany.