You’ve Read About 3d Printing…Here’s 3d Knitting

Customized blazers made on-site in about 90 minutes. (Some might call this product more of a cardigan.)  More from the retailer and the equipment manufacturer.

Benefits of this approach compared with the traditional process include better fit, reduced fabric waste (indeed, the process starts with yarn rather than with fabric), elimination of seams for better durability, and avoidance of inventory vs demand mismatches.  OTOH, the machine is priced at $190,000 and for a store with high volumes, several of them are going to be required.  I’m not sure whether this will be only a niche product/service or whether it heralds the beginning of a sea change in the traditional cut-and-sew method of apparel production…surely something that will come sooner or later, with vast consequences.

This innovation reminded me of a story from pre-industrial-revolution days.  In 1589, an Englishman named William Lee invented a device called the stocking frame, which aimed to greatly improve the productivity of knitting the material for the stockings that were then in vogue. According to a common story, he was motivated to create the machine because when he came to call on a girl he was sweet on, she persisted in paying more attention to her knitting than to him.  So his intent was either (a) free up her time so she would have more (hopefully) for him, or (b) get revenge on her for rejecting him. (I’d rather think he was naive (version A) than vicious (version B))

He then arranged to demonstrate the machine to Queen Elizabeth, hoping for a patent.  In one version of the story, she expressed disappointment that the machine was only good for wool and told him to come back when it could also handle silk…which enhancement he was indeed able to accomplish.  In any case, Elizabeth ultimately rejected the device because of concerns about technological unemployment:

Thou aimest high, Master Lee. Consider thou what the invention could do to my poor subjects. It would assuredly bring to them ruin by depriving them of employment, thus making them beggars.

The inventor moved to France and was there granted a patent by Henry IV…he began successful manufacturing of stockings in Rouen, but the King’s assassination in 1610 made the political climate for the venture untenable.  William Lee lived out the rest of his life in poverty.  It appears that in the late 1600s an improved version of the machine was re-introduced to England by Huguenot refugees from France, this time successfully, and further improvements were made over time, including the ability of the machines to work with cotton.  These improved versions were however too expensive for most artisans to purchase on their own, and they were generally rented out by the same entrepreneurs who provided the framework knitters with their raw materials and purchased their resultant product.

An interesting article on William Lee and his machine here.

The Worshipful Company of Framework Knitters has a wonderful coat-of-arms featuring William Lee and the object of his desire, with the machine between them.







9 thoughts on “You’ve Read About 3d Printing…Here’s 3d Knitting”

  1. I have been an American member of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London for years and a member of its History of Medicine Faculty.

    It was the first society to grant medical licenses in 1815. The prior medical society died with Charles I. James I chartered this Society in 1617.

    Apothecaries Hall was rebuilt after the 1666 London Fire.

    About fifteen years ago, my daughter and I were invited to The Lord Mayor’s Show, which was followed by the Royal Army Medical Corps annual meeting and dinner. The dinner was held at The Merchant Tailor’s Hall because Apothecaries Hall is too small.

    My daughter who was about 20 at the time, told me her knees were knocking as we walked up the great steps to the receiving line.

    It was great fun. We sat for dinner with the commanding General of the Royal Army Medical Corps and her date, a retired British Army Colonel who was just home from 25 years overseas and now restoring his families’ home that he had inherited.

    It was just about the same date as Remembrance Day, and we sat in Westminster Abbey with the RAMC in front of their memorial window. The British Army is not “Royal” but the Medical Corps is, for some reason.

    It was such fun to take my daughter who used to travel with me quite a bit when she was still a student. She is still a world traveler, while I have pretty much hung up my travel togs.

    Our trip to Waterloo in 2015 was with the same couple who invited us to the events above.

  2. Queen Elizabeth seems to have believed in the lump of labour fallacy. So do many people today.

  3. Dearieme…but the human suffering during periods of transition, before the labor is absorbed in other ways, is real. Look at the example of the handloom weavers when the power looms started gaining real traction.

  4. I imagine that the transition can be painful, though I doubt if it always is. But is Luddism the answer?

  5. The British Army is not Royal originally because it was raised by the kings vassals who, in essence, had their own armies that they had to raise from their vassals down to the knight with his retinue. The Royal Navy, on the other hand goes back to the time of Alfred and was raised and paid for by the King. The RAMC was not set up until the late 19th century when it was paid for by taxes raised for the King by Parliament, thus it was Royal, while most Army units were not. Like the Common Law, when you have 1,000 years to organize something, it can appear quite disorganized yet be quite effective.

  6. Dearieme….Luddism is of course not the answer. But I think it’s important to understand that these disruptions do occur and have human and political consequences.

    Not sure how much of a ‘safety net’ there was in Elizabethan England…

  7. Yes it’s off the chain. ;) I’m looking at 3D control for several purposes, it’s cheap and easy now. An Arduino, Pi or whatever and cheap stepper motors and drivers.

    As well I can build a water jet cutter for quite cheap now. You hack a pressure washer basically. My son who blows glass for a living is interested, as glass cuts really well. We can control that with the aforementioned CAM process.

    The Chinese have stolen everything and made it cheap as hell. This is working! People everywhere are building pick and place machines, CAD/CAM machines and all manner of hackish stuff is appearing. You can buy a 3D printer for $350 now.

    It a feast for me and my kind. Hack the world, hell maybe we can fix it. ;) The people upstairs are obviously lost.

  8. David,

    The Act for the Relief of the Poor 1597 provided the first complete code of poor relief in England, established Overseers of the Poor and was later amended by the Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601, which was one of the longest-lasting achievements of her reign, left unaltered until 1834. This law made each parish responsible for supporting the legitimately needy in their community.[6] It taxed wealthier citizens of the country to provide basic shelter, food and clothing, though they were not obligated to provide for those outside of their community.

    Parishes responsible for their own community caused problems because some were more generous than others. This caused the poor to migrate to other parishes that were not their own. In order to counteract this problem, the Poor Relief Act 1662, also known as the Settlement Act, was implemented. This created many sojourners, people who resided in different settlements that were not their legal one.[8] The Settlement Act allowed such people to be forcefully removed, and garnered a negative reaction from the population. A laissez-faire economist said it was a “barrier to labour mobility and migration decisions”.[8] In order to fix the flaws of the 1662 act, the act of 1691 came into effect such that it presented methods by which people could gain settlement in new locations. Such methods included “owning or renting property above a certain value or paying parish rates, but also by completing a legal apprenticeship or a one-year service while unmarried, or by serving a public office” for that identical length of time.[8]

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