The Hosiery Center of the South

Burlington, NC

Hosiery Center of the South proudly proclaimed on the radiator of the 1931 Ford Model A pickup truck in Burlington, NC.  Courtesy Burlington, N. C.
Times­News and Jim Maynard January 2011

Article by James W. Maynard, Tower Hosiery 2009

The production of hosiery is basically split between socks, made for children and men, and sheer hosiery for women.

Socks are made on coarse gauge circular knitting machines. Each general category requires a machine uniquely designed to create the particular type of sock. Examples include argyles (diamonds), ribs (link and link machines), fancy clock or stripes (perfect wrap or PW machines), and athletic socks (cushion sole machines). After knitting, each sock must have the toe closed by seaming and is then finished. Finishing involves dyeing, boarding (to create attractive and saleable shape), packaging (labels, etc.), and shipping. Sock mills may be vertically integrated, that is, knitting, seaming and finishing. Mills may also do only the knitting and seaming and then sell the “greige” socks to a vertical mill for dyeing and finishing. During the first half of the 20th century, there were many “greige” mills in Alamance County, even the so-
called “garage” operator who had family members run six to ten machines in the garage. Since then, the cottage industry disappeared as machines became more complex, expensive, and computerized.

The ladies hosiery industry in the first half of the 20th century, involved fine gauge (small diameter or “denier” yarn) knitted on full fashion knitting machines. These machines, even then, were expensive, large, and required highly skilled “fixers” or mechanics and knitters. The cottage industry similar to the sock industry, never could take place as a result.

Full fashion knitting was done on a flat bed machine, as opposed to a seamless or circular knitting machine, and the stockings were then folded over and seamed from the toe, up the back of the leg, to the top of the thigh. This seaming was a highly skilled job. The stockings were then finished (dyed, boarded, and paired) and folded into a tissue­lined box.

Beginning in 1959, seamless production began to replace full fashion. As time went on, full fashion disappeared and seamless flourished with the advent of multi­feed machines, high speed and computer- controlled patterning and yarns involving stretch nylon and spandex. Products were constantly being added, such as knee­hi’s, tights, and panty hose. Today, the industry has declined with the advent of pantsuits and bare legs, but Alamance County has truly been the Hosiery Center of the South and of the nation.

The pair of stockings is 51 gauge 15 denier monofilament reinforced heel and toe with 40/13 welt and 30/10 afterwelt. The seam is a self seam [dyed the same color as the stocking as opposed to being a dope dyed black nylon seam]. Size 10 1/2 medium length. Hosiery by Tower.

Source: Jim W. Maynard, article in Textile Heritage Museum newsletter.

Full­fashion hosiery
Textile Heritage Museum, Glencoe, NC
Photo: Julie Mock