How are tights made?

Most tights are made in a circular knitting machine. Yarn is fed into the machine, which uses 300 to 420 needles to convert the nylon or other fibres used to create the tights into a series of loops. The threading machines make a tubular sleeve of material for the legs. Circular knitting is very fast, it takes about 90 seconds to knit a full-length stocking leg for example, this can often damage or break natural fibres, so hard wearing fibres such as nylon and spandex are often used instead. Once the tube of material is produced, two legs are then positioned on a leg mould to join them together. The machine presses them together and makes a small cut at the top of the pair. As the machine revolves, the cut is enlarged so that it can be re-sewn later. This is what makes the distinctive seam down the middle of a pair of tights. After this the following elements of production occur using machines: the manufacturer's label is sewn on the waist line, the gusset is made by re-cutting the crotch of the tights, the toes are sewn straight across and a cutting machine then trims off any excess fabric. Following these processes, a human operator with the aid of moulds and machines adds the gusset material. The final stages of making tights are the dye process, stretching and steaming. The tights are placed in a large drum, like a washing machine, which uses detergents to clean and then dye the tights. They are then stretched onto a leg mould that stretches them to their maximum capacity so that any weak threads immediately break and can be recycled. The tights are finally steamed with water vapour for only 2 1/2 seconds and then dried.

The history of tights

The word hosiery is derived from the Anglo- Saxon word hosen, meaning covering. As far back as the 9th century, legs were covered with bandages of material, often held in place with strands of gut. In the 15th century, early tights were crudely constructed from woven stockings joined together with a cod-piece, sometimes soled on the feet with leather. The 16th century saw hand-knitted stockings from Spain coming to England. By the 18th century, women started wearing stockings too, prior to this it was mostly men who wore them. The upper classes would wear white or coloured stockings, whilst the lower classes would wear black. However, by the 1800s, men were moving away from stockings and breeches into trousers and the industrial production of stockings from around 1860 made them more available. The introduction of synthetic yarns in the Twenties revolutionised the industry, making hosiery sheerer than cotton and cheaper then silk. Early fishnets appeared in the Thirties and in 1938, Dupont introduced the first nylon stockings. By 1949, seamed nylons were all the rage in the UK. Tights that we know today came about in the Fifties, they were formed by sewing nylon legs onto a pair of crepe nylon briefs. Tights really came into their own in the Sixties, worn under mini-skirts created by designers such as Mary Quant. In the early Eighties, patterned tights appeared on the market and Lycra started being incorporated into hosiery in 1985. The new Lycra 3D process, where Lycra is knitted into every stitch, not just every third, was introduced in 1994 and now makes hosiery super smooth with a perfect fit.