Although hosiery is now optional, stockings used to be a big deal, especially when nylon stockings were invented. Women would not leave the house without them and even during World War II when the use of nylon was diverted to the war effort, women came up with ingenious ways of imitating the appearance of stockings. American soldiers brought nylons as gifts for women when they travelled to other countries, and some crimes were even motivated by the desire to obtain stockings! I find everything about stockings fascinating, their history, how they have evolved, what they have meant to different people, their designs and of course, how they are manufactured.
Since I started my love affair with stockings, one of my dreams has been to watch a fully-fashioned nylon stocking being made on a Reading machine. For me it’s like watching a piece of history in action and I’m amazed that during this time of ever evolving technology, stockings are still made on the original machines that were used back at the birth of nylon hosiery in the late 1930s. I could never understand how such a delicate garment as a stocking is made on such big greasy machines. John, the owner of a stockings factory in England, very kindly agreed to show me around and I feel so privileged to have witnessed these truly magnificent machines at work.
The Reading machine is a anything but delicate. The machines are enormous, maybe about 5′ high and they are about a meter wide; each one of these magnificent machines is covered in grease to keep them lubricated, and they are built, as you can imagine, to be robust. The noise that came out of the row of machines (at a guess, around 20 of them?) was deafening, I could barely hear what John, was saying when he was speaking to me.
However, what I loved the most about these machines was that in amongst the huge industrial machines, there was something very delicate, the needles. Stockings are made by knitting the nylon thread, and this is done with tiny little needles. Each machine has a row of needles all sitting in a row, and they need to be completely straight at all times. The two gentlemen who were working the machines were kind enough to show me how the machines worked, including how they check that the needles are straight and that the thread has not caught on them. When it came to turning the stocking over on itself to create a welt and knitting the piece together, one of the gentlemen stopped the machines and checked that every thread was looped over the needle. If it wasn’t, he took a tiny hook and pulled it over the needle, the precision and steady handedness with which he did this was on a par with a surgeon!
The other thing that images cannot convey is temperature, the temperature in that room was so high, 85 Fahrenheight (that’s about 29.5 degrees Celsius) to be precise! I had absolutely no idea that temperature plays a role in the manufacturing of stockings, but now that I have taken a closer look at the machines it makes complete sense. The tiny needles that I have just described would bend out of shape if the temperature fluctuated too much, and it is therefore kept at the same temperature all year round. I have to say that I respect those men for working in what is essentially a sauna!
As I mentioned to the owner of the factory, one of my main worries in the underwear business is that the few stockings manufacturers that remain in the world will cease to produce beautiful nylons due to lack of demand, and that this precious part of the fashion world will follow the same fate as the dinosaurs. However, having met the very knowledgable and experienced team and witnessed the skill and diligence with which they make these beautiful stockings, my fear has been quashed. It appears that business is good and in my opinion, this is thanks to their perfectionist outlook and creativity. Each stocking is checked rigorously and they are not sold to the public unless they are perfect (imperfect stockings are labelled and sold as such for a discounted rate). Although stockings were traditionally shades of fawn, white or occasionally black, John has carried the stockings business through to the 21st century and modernised them in several different ways; new colourways such as mint, blue, red, green and many other colours have been added to the stock, and, different heels such as the Broadway have been created. Both of these new aspects will create more business as people have more choices made available to them.
I would like to thank the wonderful team for taking time out of their busy schedule to show me around the factory and showing me their trade, I feel extremely lucky to have witnessed stockings being made.
I will be writing a more detailed post about how stockings are made, so make sure you subscribe to my blog so that you don’t miss it!
If you would like to own your very own nylon stockings and support a great industry, please pay a visit to the Touchable website.