"Niche Knits", A Deep Dive into the feature exhibit

Image of man wearing stockings 18th century. Col. Edmund Winn by Henry Pickering. Image courtesy of National Trust Collections

Even the smallest things can have a large impact on the world around them. A single loop may not seem like much, but if loops are threaded together, eventually fabric is created. The humble notion of looping thread until it produces a garment is a concept that has been around for centuries and even today is an extremely important segment of textile manufacturing.

In Gaston County, the textile industry dominated the landscape and economy for over 100 years. However, a very small segment of that industry was dedicated to looped textiles, also known as knits. Hosiery mills struggled to survive in this region but still left a mark on history and fashion with their clever innovations. It just goes to show that niche subjects—like stockings or a hosiery mill—can influence the world around us.

*Left image, Miss South Carolina, Gaston County Museum of Art & History permanent collection. Right image, Col. Edmund Winn by Henry Pickering, 1746. Nostell Priory © National Trust , UK

Explore a deeper dive into "Niche Knits" by exploring the topics below.


A Deeper Dive Into… Natural and Synthetic Materials
Regardless of whether they are natural or synthetic, all fibers are made from polymers (poly=many; mers=units), and all polymers are made from monomers (mono=one; mers=units). Monomers are like a link in a very long, but microscopic chain. When chemically bonded together, they form a polymer (Polyester example). Polymers have a very high length to width ratio . When many polymer chains cross-link, solid materials are formed. The more cross-links, the thicker, harder and sometimes stronger the material.

Image:  Photograph of a scientist in a lab. Jarmoluk / Pixabay (image may be subject to copyright)

A Deeper Dive Into…Knitting and Hosiery Manufacturing
Hosiery manufacturing is a subset of knitting…and more specifically, circular knitting. Hosiery knitting machines are smaller versions of circular knitting machines, and are configured differently in order to knit different structures for different parts of the hosiery…for example, the toe, heel and top of each leg of hosiery utilizes a different knitted structures for comfort, durability and performance. Furthermore, the size of yarn used to produce hosiery is often finer (smaller) than yarns used in knitted t-shirts, sweaters or dresses, for example. In the overall scope of textile manufacturing, hosiery is a small but important portion of the total production.

Image: Cotten's Patents: Ad from William Cotton’s full-fashioned knitting machines. © Leicester Chamber of Commerce Yearbook, 1921.


A Deeper Dive Into…Weft Knitting
Weft Knitting, also known as circular knitting, is fabric knitted in a large spiral, using needles in a circular pattern. Fabric is formed in a large tube which can be cut to create a more flat fabric. Yarn is fed to the machine by way of an overhead or stand-alone creel. Knitting needles are raised to grab the yarn, and then lowered to create each loop by a cam mechanism. Tensioning devices keep the yarn tight while a rotating take-up roller collects the knitted fabric. Special lubricants are used to prevent friction and to reduce hairiness in the yarn.
Circular knitting is the most common of the mechanized knitting processes. Many knitted textile products are created on circular knitters. Nearly all t-shirts and underwear are made on circular knitters, as well as many other apparel and home furnishing products.

(a)plain knit; (b) 1 × 1 plain knit; (c) plain knit with weft-inlay; (d) double pique; (e) interlock; (f) variable half milano; (g) interlock with weft-inlay; and (h) variable half cardigan.

 Image: Siyao, Mao, Su Liu, Zhang Peihua, and Long Hairu. 2020. "Functional Investigation on Automotive Interior Materials Based on Variable Knitted Structural Parameters" Polymers 12, no. 11: 2455. https://doi.org/10.3390/polym12112455  

A Deeper Dive Into… Warp Knitting
Warp Knitting involves beds of needles that create side to side loops in a horizontal orientation. A warp beam of filaments or spun yarns feeds the yarns to the needle beds and a take up roller collects the finished fabric in large rolls. Warp knitting is faster than weft or flat bed knitting, which makes it commercially viable.
Examples of warp knitted fabrics are foundation garments such as bras and girdles, as well as many industrial products such as automotive headliners and high strength military materials. An increasing number of high-performance athletic and athleisure products are made from warp knits. Raschel and tricot are the most common warp knit fabrics. Warp knitted fabrics usually have less stretch are typically stronger than weft or flat bed fabrics.

 Image: Pinecrest Fabrics, Inc. “What is Knit Fabric.” Pinecrest Fabrics (blog), 2018, https://pinecrestfabrics.com/fabric-knowledge/knit-fabric/


A Deeper Dive Into…How to make a stocking
A smaller modified circular knitting machine was developed to produce socks and hosiery. A single sock or leg of hosiery is formed at one time. When first produced, the toe is open on the sock or hosiery and must be sewn together to form the finished product. Unique knitting structures are designed into the toe, heel and top of the sock or hosiery to improve the performance and durability of the product.
Modern hosiery is considered “full-fashioned” because the product is form fitted to the consumers leg and body. To achieve this quality, hosiery is typically boarded and heat-set around a particular shape and then cooled to maintain that shape for the wearer of the hosiery.
Silk (originally), nylon, rayon and polyester have been the most commonly used fibers for the manufacture of hosiery throughout the years. Cotton, animal fibers and blended fibers are commonly used for socks…depending upon the end use.

Image: Photograph of Cuban heel style stockings, circa 1940. 


A Deeper Dive Into…Knitting Mills in Gaston County

All hosiery mills are knitting mills, but not all knitting mills are hosiery mills.  This list contains nearly every knitting mill that operated in Gaston County throughout the past 115 years.  The hosiery mills, those whose primary product was socks, stockings or hosiery, are identified in bold.

Image: Photograph of Wisteria Hosiery Mill workers, circa 1946. Courtesy of the Sumner family

  • Mount Holly Knitting Co., 1883-1884, Mount Holly (converted to Albion Spinning Mill in 1884)
  • Standard Knitting Mills, 1917-c.1922, Gastonia
  • Gaston Knitting Mills (Gaston Hosiery Company), 1918-c.1923, Cherryville
  • Patrick Knitting (Hosiery) Mills, 1918-c.1922, Gastonia
  • Hoyle Knitting (Hosiery) Mills, 1918-1920, Cherryville
  • Eureka Hosiery Mills, c.1918-c.1924, Lowell
  • Wilson-Bell Co., 1918-c.1919, Gastonia
  • Glenn-McLean Knitting Mills, c.1919-c.1920, Gastonia
  • Josephine Knitting Mills, c.1918-c.1926, Cherryville
  • Cherryville Knitting Mills, Inc., 1927-1927, Cherryville (No record of any product being manufactured)
  • Belmont Hosiery Mills, Inc., 1928-1972, Belmont (Merged with several other companies to form Belmont Heritage Corporation in 1972)
  • Hatch Full Fashioned Hosiery Company, 1928-1946, Belmont (Merged with Knit Products Corporation in 1946, changed name to Knit Products Corporation #3 in 1952, surviving company was called Vision Hosiery Mills, Inc.)
  • Knit Products Corporation, 1929-1946, Belmont (Vision Hosiery was the name of the sales arm of Knit Products Corporation; merged with Hatch Full-Fashioned Hosiery to become Vision Hosiery Mills, Inc. in 1946)
  • Walker Mills, Inc., 1937-ca. 1939, Gastonia
  • Mount Holly Knitting Mills, Inc., c.1938-c.1939, Mount Holly
  • Gastonia Full-Fashioned Hosiery Mill, Inc., 1938-c.1947, Gastonia (in 1947, changed name to Wisteria Hosiery Mills, Inc.)
  • Whitehall Knitting Mills, Inc., c.1939-1949, Mount Holly (Former Mount Holly Knitting Co. building)
  • Charles Hosiery Company, 1940-1941, Gastonia
  • Allied Knitting Co., 1943-1946, Belmont (Incorporated as Beltex Fabrics in 1946)
  • Amknit Fabrics, Inc., 1945, Mount Holly (Changed name to Holly-Knit, Inc. one month after charter in 1945)
  • Holly-Knit, Inc., 1945-c.1970s, Mount Holly (Started as the knitting subsidiary of American Yarn & Processing Company in 1945, which became American & Efird Mills, Inc. in 1952)
  • Barbet Mills, Inc., 1945-c.1952, Gastonia
  • Cornucopia Corp, 1945-c.1985, Belmont
  • Beltex Fabrics, Inc, 1946-1949, Belmont (Name changed to Beltex Corporation in 1949)
  • Sumner Hosiery Mill, 1946-1957, Gastonia
  • Bucknit Processing Company, Inc., 1946-c.1948, Cherryville
  • Gray Knit-Fabrics, Inc., 1946-c.1947, Gastonia
  • Vision Hosiery Mills, Inc., 1946-c.1991, Belmont (Formerly Hatch Full-Fashioned Hosiery Mill and Knit Products Corporation)
  • Wisteria Hosiery Mill, 1947-c.1960, Gastonia (Changed name from Gastonia Full-Fashioned Hosiery to Wisteria Hosiery Mills in 1947; Sumner Hosiery was a spin-off company; Merged with Glenn Mills, Inc. in 1955, merged with Roxborough Company in 1960)
  • Belmont Knitting, 1947-1972, Belmont [Merged with Belmont Hosiery Mills, Inc. (and other companies) in 1972 and the surviving company name was Belmont Heritage Corporation]
  • Walton Full Fashion Hosiery Mill, 1947-c.1948, Dallas (Never went into full production in Gaston County)
  • Knit Products Corporation #2, Inc., 1947-c.1956, Belmont (Merged with Knit Products Corporation #3 to become Knit Products Corporation, which had already been merged into Vision Hosiery Mills, Inc. in 1946)
  • Howard Knit Products, Inc., 1949-1973, Bessemer City (Merged with sister company Gastonia Knitting & Finishing Company and Cinderella Knitting Company; became Cinderella Knitting Company which operated until c. 1995)
  • Vision Hosiery Mills, Inc., c. 1946-c.1991, Belmont (Formerly Hatch Full-Fashioned Hosiery and Knit Products Corporation)
  • Beltex Corporation, 1949-c.2000, Belmont (Assets purchased by Beltex Underwear Company, LLC in 2001)
  • Sumner Seamless Stockings, Inc. (Division of Sumner Hosiery Mill), c.1955-c.1957, Gastonia
  • Dalknit, Inc., c.1956-c.1957, Dallas
  • Knitcraft, Inc., 1956-2001, Belmont (Bought out by EGO Beltex Underwear, LLC)
  • American Knit Fabrics, Inc., 1956-1961, Bessemer City (Name changed to Aladdin Knit Mills, Inc. in 1961)
  • Dallas Sportswear, Inc., 1958-c.1963, Dallas
  • Donna Manufacturing, Inc., 1958-c.1963, Dallas
  • Fairlane Knitting Mills of North Carolina, Inc., 1958-c.1961, Gastonia
  • Danoca Industries, 1959-c.1975, Dallas, Gastonia
  • Pama Manufacturing Co., 1959-1985, Gastonia
  • Lawrence Knitting Mill, c.1950-1950, Bessemer City (Never went into production in Gaston County, moved plant to Charlotte in late 1950)
  • Dallas Sports Knitting Co., 1960-1985, Dallas
  • Fairlane Sportswear, Inc., 1961-c.1979, Bessemer City
  • Dixieland Apparel Corporation, Inc., 1961-c.1980, Bessemer City
  • Aladdin Knit Mills, Inc., 1961-1970, Bessemer City (Formerly American Knit Fabrics, Inc.)
  • Sweetree Mills, Inc., 1961-1977, Cherryville
  • Reliable Mills, Inc., 1961-c.1968, Gastonia
  • Mason Athletic Company, Inc., 1961-c.1984, Dallas, Gastonia
  • Armtex Inc. (1946), c.1961-c.2001, Gastonia
  • Indian Creek Garment Co., Inc., 1961-1965, Cherryville (Changed name to Contract Sewing, Inc. in 1965)
  • Gastonia Knitting & Finishing, Inc., c.1961-c.1977, Gastonia (Merged with sister company Howard Knit Products, Inc. in 1977 bought by Cinderella Knits)
  • Raycrest Mills, Inc. (RI), c.1961-c.1971, Cherryville
  • Gastonia Knit Fabrics Company, 1962-1964, Gastonia (Changed name to Gallant Sportswear, Inc. in 1964)
  • Supreme Manufacturing Co., 1962-c.1979, Gastonia, Dallas
  • Wales Manufacturing Inc., (Wales Fabrics), 1962-c.1999, Gastonia
  • Joel Togs, Inc., c.1963-c.1997, Gastonia
  • Airtowne Mills, Inc. of North Carolina, c.1963-c.1979, Cherryville, Gastonia
  • Meade Knitting Co., 1963-c.1994, Cherryville
  • Beno Mfg. Co., 1963-1985, Bessemer City, Gastonia
  • Gallant Sportswear, Inc., 1964-c.1965, Gastonia (Formerly Gastonia Knit Fabrics Company)
  • Kane Knitting Mills, c.1964-c.1984, Gastonia
  • Nob Hill Classics, Ltd. (M&G Sportswear Company), c.1964-c.1974, Dallas
  • Contract Sewing, Inc., 1965-c.1968, Cherryville (Formerly Indian Creek Garment Co., Inc.)
  • Douglas Mills, Inc., 1966-1971, Gastonia
  • Stanley Knitwear 1966-1993, Stanley (Merged with Beltex Corporation in 1993)
  • Stride Knitting & Finishing Company, Inc., c.1967-1984, Bessemer City
  • Gaston Manufacturing Co., 1967-c.1970, Stanley
  • Swag-nit, c.1968-c.1999, Belmont (Office); Mount Holly (Manufacturing)
  • Jesco Knitwear Corp., 1968-1977, Gastonia
  • Caro-Knits, Inc. (Textiles, Incorporated), 1969-c.early 2000s, Gastonia (office), Jefferson, SC
  • Riverside Athletic Goods, Inc., c.1969-c.1990, Cherryville
  • Gaston Hosiery Mills, Inc., 1969-c.1975, Belmont
  • Burlington Industries (Pinnacle Plant), 1972-c.1974, Cherryville
  • Ithaca Industries, c.1970-c.2000, Gastonia
  • Knitronic Knitting Mills, Inc., c.1971-1978, Cherryville (Name change to Travis Knits in 1978)
  • Burlington Industries (Modena Plant), 1971-1987, Gastonia
  • Davidson, Inc., 1971-c.1976, Gastonia
  • Kings Point Knitting Mills, Inc., 1971-1984, Bessemer City
  • Cherryville Dyeing & Finishing, 1971-c.1980, Cherryville
  • Pique Knits, Inc. (Smyre Raschel, Inc.), c.1971-c.1972, Gastonia
  • Rica Knitting Corporation, 1971-c.1974, Gastonia
  • Belmont Heritage Corporation, 1972-c.1989, Belmont (Merged into Parkdale Mills in 1989)
  • Bike Athletic Co., c.1973-1995, Cherryville
  • Rite-On Sportswear, Inc., 1972-c.1975, Dallas
  • Adventure Knits, Inc., 1971-1981, Gastonia
  • G & S Sportswear, Inc., 1972-c.1981, Gastonia
  • A.M. Smyre (Smyre Raschel) - Plant #4, c.1972-c. 1976, Ranlo
  • Allied Knitting Mills, Inc., 1973-c.1974, Belmont
  • Linc Knit, Inc., 1973-c.1974, Gastonia
  • J.P. Stevens (Stevcoknit Fabrics Division-Robinson Plant), 1973-c.1988, Dallas
  • Tom's Knit Fabrics, c.1974-c.2003, Gastonia
  • Wagner Knitting, Inc., 1976-c. 2005, Lowell, Cramerton
  • Cinderella Knitting Mills (Dawson Consumer Products), 1977-c.1995, Gastonia (Formerly Howard Knit Products, Inc. and Gastonia Knitting and Finishing)
  • Travis Knits, 1978-c.2001, Cherryville (Name changed from Knitronics Knitting Mills in 1978)
  • The Bali Company, c.1978-c.2009, Gastonia, Bessemer City
  • Litchfield Fabrics, Inc., c.1979-c.2005, Gastonia
  • G & L Knitting Corporation (Med-Wil Industries), 1979-c.1981, Gastonia
  • Beverly Knits, 1980-Present, Gastonia (Only knitting plant still in operation in Gaston County)
  • Shelton Industries, 1980-c.1985, Gastonia
  • Bullfrog Knits (Brinco Corporation), 1984-c.1991, Gastonia
  • Modern Globe, Inc. (1888 as Globe Knitting Co.), 1984-1993, Gastonia
  • Lida, Inc. (Danalex, Larjak), c.1989-1995, Gastonia, Bessemer City, Charlotte
  • Springford Knitting Mill, c.1994-c.1995, Gastonia