The humble sock — a simple item crafted from a substantial length of material. It’s one of the most utilitarian items in any wardrobe, with dozens of uses: protection, warmth, fashion statement and more.
But how are socks made? Where are they made? What materials are they typically made from? And what do they use today to make them so that they’re comfortable and long lasting?
There are a lot of different ways in which socks are made. In this article we’re going to look at a typical design and production process, so that you'll get a better understanding of how socks are made.
Once a sock design has been sketched, it needs to be translated into a format which a knitting machine can understand. The knitting machine does its work based on individual needles.
For example, when we refer to hipSwan socks being 168N or 200N, these are the number of needles used by the knitting machine. The diameter of a knitting machine cylinder is fixed, so the greater the number of knitting needles within that cylinder, the more dense (finer) the weave of the sock. For a 200 needle machine, the knitting cylinder holds 200 very thin knitting needles that are 1/50th of an inch thick.
The job of the pattern coder is, therefore, to translate a sock sketch into a grid that defines what colour each needle should be.
Once the pattern coding is ready, it is saved and assigned to the specific machines that will be knitting your socks.
Yarn selection is a critical part of producing quality socks. At hipSwan, we focus on sustainable yarns such as organic combed cotton and merino wool.
In order to achieve performance features like the compression arch band, branding, and elasticity, these base yarns must be mixed with other elements like nylon and elastane.
When yarns are first produced they are in a natural/undyed state, which for cotton is a beige/ivory colour. To create the colours specified in the design, the yarns must then be dyed. Dyes introduce chemicals into the sock production process, which can be minimized by using vegetable or other non-toxic dyeing agents.
Once the designs and yarns are programmed into the sock knitting machine, the knitting process begins and the magic starts to happen. All the different yarns comprising the final sock are loaded into the machine and in smooth and symphonic movements, the selected sock yarns are activated by the programmed design. By the end of this stage, what was once yarn has now become a sock (almost!).
It’s quality assurance time! Once the first socks come out from the machine, quality inspectors delve into each one to examine them thoroughly. They are moved from one eye to another until the inspectors are confident that all the socks are error-free, and can proceed to a full production run.
The knitting machines produce socks in a tube-like structure, open at both ends. Another type of sock machine is then responsible for linking and sewing the socks closed at the toes. This linking/sewing is also still commonly done by hand, as the work is very intricate.
After the linking comes another pause in the socks manufacturing process. For the second time, experts scan the final socks to make sure they are exactly as defined in the original design and have no production flaws.
The boarding stage is a simple one. It paves the way for the final stage by ironing the socks and making sure they are kept in perfect shape. Then they undergo a fixed degree of pressure and temperature to keep the socks tidy and bright.
Pairing, Labelling & Final
Finally, we have arrived at the last stage of the socks manufacturing process. The final, approved socks are paired and are inspected for a third and final time. They are then wrapped in our branded recycled kraft paper wrappers, and get packaged into cartons, ready for shipping in bulk, either by air or sea, to hipSwan's warehouse in the UK. At this stage we calculate the carbon emissions involved in bulk shipping and purchase carbon offsets, as part of our sustainability policies.
The sock manufacturing process is rather lengthy, but it’s also quite fascinating. There are numerous steps that go into the production of a single pair of socks, and each step is vital in order to produce high-quality socks.
Thanks to the rise of technology and an increase in globalization, manufacturing processes can be done in any number of facilities around the world. It's safe to say that socks are made everywhere and anywhere that you want them.