How to get started in sweater design and production

Today we have a guest entry from Christina Cato, owner of Infinite Gauge Design. Christina offers a unique service, that of sweater design and sample production for small businesses. This will be of interest if you’ve ever wondered how to go about adding sweaters to your line.
—————
I discovered my love for sweaters and sweater construction while working on my Master’s degree at Washington State University. My first professional opportunity was as an assistant technical designer at Nordstrom. I was working with the sweaters for my brand and was given more responsibility than was typical for this position. Working there taught me ins and outs of the industry that just couldn’t be learned in school. When I was ready, I left the company and started teaching part-time to facilitate my move toward starting my own company creating knit downs and sweater samples for smaller design companies.

Sweater types
There are two main kinds of sweaters. Full fashioning and cut and sew. Full-fashioning is the process of making a sweater that is created in the pieces that it will be assembled in. It takes less yarn, but is considered a sweater type with a higher skill level, as the sweater will need to be assembled on a linking machine.

Cut-and-sew sweaters are knit in large panels and cut out like with a woven garment and sewn on a machine; this is what has most been used in the U.S. Cut-and-sew sweaters tend to be very simple in stitch and overall design, which is not the where sweater trends have moved (I believe this was a fatal flaw in the US sweater industry). As designs have become more complicated, companies that create fashionable sweaters have had to go offshore to create their designs. These manufacturing companies will often provide knitdowns, which are large swatches with stitch designs that can be used in a design, as well as new sweater samples that are created in-house.

Production knitting
A production knitter usually refers to a person who knits from home using a home knitting machine. The machines we use are smaller versions of the automated machines that are used in the industry. What we do is often thought of as a “cottage” industry and I suppose that is an accurate depiction. With the rising desire to manufacturer in the U.S. and the lack of full-fashion knit manufacturers, it will probably be a growing cottage industry.

The first thing to know about production knitters is the kind of equipment they usually use and what that means for you as the designer.

Equipment
There are 4 gauges available for home use and they are as follows:

  • 3.5 mm – fine gauge (300 needles)
  • 4.5 mm – standard gauge (200 needles)
  • 6.0 mm – mid-gauge (150 needles)
  • 9.0 mm – bulky/chunky (110 needles)

I’ve included a few photos of machines. Below is a Swiss made, Passap Duomatic 80. It is s double bed, 4.5mm standard gauge machine.

Below is a Toyota 901 4.5mm standard gauge (obviously Japanese). It is not a true double bed as the ribber (the bottom needle bed) can be removed, but it behaves in the same way.

Neither of these machines are in production anymore and can’t be purchased new, but they are commonly found for sale.

The measurement expressed as “gauge” refers to the distance between needles. Each machine can handle a range of yarn sizes. Most production knitters will have at the very least one standard gauge machine. Some experienced production knitters can use a single machine to work with any yarn and work around the problems, but some like to have machines of various gauges to be prepared for different yarns. It is important for a designer to find out what a production knitter has to work with as this can greatly effect the length of time it takes to complete a production run.

Home knitting machines like these are hand operated contrary to the common assumption that these work on their own. This is true for large industrial machines, but most home knitters don’t have motors attached to their machines so they have to move the carriage across the bed to produce the knit structure. If you find someone with a motor (or 2 or 3) they are usually full-time production knitters. On human power, an average cardigan can be made in about 5-6 hours. It could be slower or faster depending on the health of the knitter. It’s physically demanding to knit on the machine all day.

Its also good to find out if the production knitter you want to work with has any supplemental equipment. Linkers, sewing machines, sergers etc. can all aid in speeding the process of knitting large lots of sweaters.

Software
Some production knitters have had a lot of experience creating designs from scratch, but it’s best not to assume that. Many production knitters were hobbyists who decided to turn knitting into a way to work from home. As such they may have only worked with other people’s patterns. It’s best to find out the level of experience the knitter has with original designs because it may be necessary to go to a different knitter to get written instructions or a detailed drawing.

A knitter with more designer experience will often use software (although there are die-hards who like to do all of the math by hand). Designaknit is the best software for home use that doesn’t cost thousands of dollars. It allows a knitter to create custom designs or to work with templates. It can digitize images to knit into patterns. Since development is such a lengthy process for knit designs, it is best to find out if the person you hire has software capabilities or the ability to create a pattern from scratch immediately.

Industry Knowledge/Experience
Not all machine knitters have apparel industry experience. They may not be up on the latest stitch techniques, yarns, or trends. That is why it is best to be as detailed as possible when working with one. If you don’t have someone that can do the patterning for you on site, then you may have to hire someone to create a working set of instructions that a production knitter can follow. A paper pattern may not work in this case because it would still assume that the knitter could draft a pattern and create their own instructions based on the measurements of the paper pattern. A large scale manufacturer can usually do this, but it may be beyond the scope of the production knitter.

I hope you found these basic things about a production knitter to be helpful in guiding your questions if you work with one in the future.
———–
This is also being discussed in the forum if you don’t want to post your questions publicly.

Get New Posts by Email

12 comments

  1. dosfashionistas says:

    Very interesting and informative! Thank you very much for the posting. It just scratches the surface, but already it corrected my information on one point. I now know the correct meaning of “full-fashioned”.

  2. Fascinating! Knitwear is one area of design that has always been slightly foreign to me, simply because it was kind of the step-child of the fashion design department when I was in design school. I think that because there is now such a growing interest in knitting and crocheting coming from my generation, that smaller boutique lines of knitwear are going to keep growing in the hipster market. It really is cool to get a peek into how a small scale knitwear operation goes about production – thanks so much for sharing this!

  3. colleen says:

    Thanks, Christina, for this interesting post. I’m looking forward to joining the forum and learning more about your business.

  4. CJP says:

    Yes…Thank you Christina. I am involved with a small boutique manufacturer of clothing and have been interested in adding a knitted line. I have been looking on the internet for machines, computerized preferably, and close to my area, I am in Santa Fe, NM. Anyway, thanks for the info. I looked into the Passap and found a website from Canada, but after continual emailing and calling, I never got a reply. So, my search continues, but thank you again.

  5. Rezene says:

    Thank you Christina, for your encouragement to start small business, I was working in sweater manufacturing industry for about ten years. Since I came to the USA five years ago I miss my favorite job, but still I am interested to work on it.

  6. olowoyeye samuel says:

    thanks so much..i want to start a knittin industry but dont want to start small but big but i av a problem of gettin a computerised knitting machine dat can produced 100 cadigan par day..can i get dat and wat is the cost..tanx

    also i will also like to chat with friends of thesame line of bisiness..dis my email contact add me up…

  7. Diane Tardiff says:

    Hello,

    Do you know of a book that I could purchase showing the types of sweater stitches? I am a technical designer for sweaters and would find this helpful.

    Thanks so much!
    Diane

  8. Curtis Smith says:

    I’M TRYING TO LAUNCH MY OWN SWEATER BRAND AN PROJECT I’VE BEEN WORKING ON. I REALLY WOULD APPRECIATE IT IF YOU COULD ADVERTISE AN HELP ME GET THRU WITH IT. I’M FROM SOUTH CENTRAL LA TRYING TO MAKE IN LIFE BY STARTING MY OWN SWEATER BUSINESS AN GROW FROM THERE HOPING U COULD EXPAND AN ACCOMPLISH MORE FROM IT. AN HOPEFULLY YOU COULD GIVE ME APME POINTERS AN HELP ME SUCCEED WITH IT. I GOT MY OWN BRAND NAME AN LOGO. HELP ME ACCOMPLISH THIS AN GET OVER THESE MILESTONES AN BUMPS IN THE ROAD.

  9. oscar says:

    I would like to start a Knitwear workshop or factory getting out about 30-100 sweaters a day. What kind of machinery is required? where can i source good machines (preferably) second hand ? most people here in Uganda use chinese machines

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *