New circular knitting machine

No more back and front

The TextielLab’s 30-year-old circular knitting machine has been replaced with a brand-new Mayer, which offers more options to experiment with different techniques. Product developer Mathilde Vandenbussche, technical specialist Yani Chuang and designer Sigrid Calon have been putting the machine through its paces by developing two plaids for the TextielMuseum’s own label.

The new circular knitting machine got off to a flying start. There was no time for quiet test runs, as the development of Sigrid Calon’s cotton plaids in two colour schemes had already been booked in. The first samples were made on the old machine, but after it was sold, Mathilde Vandenbussche carried out the second test phase in the Mayer & Cie workshop in Germany. That was a great opportunity to get to know the new machine before it arrived. Once it was installed in Tilburg, she continued working on it with Calon. An unusual feature of the plaids’ designs, which Calon calls “an ode to knitting”, is that figures are knitted into the fabric on both sides. In other words, there is no front or back. This is something the Mayer machine is much better at. “Previously, the dial or rib disc that knits the back was mechanically controlled. If we wanted to switch to a different technique, I had to adjust the systems by hand,” explains Vandenbussche. “In practice, the half a day that took me meant one less development day for the designer. So, experimenting freely without knowing if it would pay off wasn’t something we did often.”

Sigrid Calon working on the new circular knitting machine. Photos: Josefina Eikenaar

Thicker yarns
Unlike the old model, the new circular knitting machine is fully digitally adjustable, making it easier to switch between different techniques. For example, the so-called ‘three-way technique’ – making knitting stitches, making tuck stitches or skipping stitches – is now just a matter of programming. The digital control makes experimenting easier too, simply because it takes less time. The much larger memory also saves time. “You no longer have to hang around at the coffee machine for half an hour while the file is uploading.” Apart from the fact that everything works as it is supposed to, there is another big plus: the new machine can handle thicker yarns. Until recently, designers were limited to using the finest yarns, but they now have much more choice. This capability was tested remotely before the purchase, by sending yarns from the museum’s permanent collection to Mayer & Cie. “The machine’s still small and compact compared to the flat knitting machines, which can produce the craziest knits,” says Vandenbussche. “But you can play around a lot more with colours, materials and structures.”

Sigrid Calon working on the new circular knitting machine. Photos: Joep Vogels, Josefina Eikenaar and Dana Dijkgraaf

“Perhaps we can now knit jacquard in 12 colours!”

Innovative use
This month, the team will focus on finishing Calon’s plaids, which will go on sale this autumn in the museum shop and web shop. But Vandenbussche already has a long list of experiments lined up. “I’d like to work with spacers, for example, in which a monofilament is woven between two knitted layers. I also want to investigate whether we can knit jacquard in eight, ten or 12 colours instead of six, and find out how we can make beautiful small structures with tuck stitches.” The experiments are ongoing, because a circular knitting machine was originally developed to make mattresses and not the innovative designs produced in the lab. In theory, anything is possible, but how this turns out in practice and where the machine’s limits lie are a matter of trial and error. In the coming years, we have reserved additional time for our own research, during which we will record the process and produce samples as a reference for makers. Vandenbussche is still looking for the perfect balance between standing at the machine and drawing and programming. The good news is that the machine’s arrival also brought circular knitting specialist Yani Chuang to the team. She worked for several years for ByBorre’s production company on the same machine. “It’s great to have her here. More capacity on the circular knitting machine means more time to delve into special projects.”


Would you like to develop a project with the lab team on the knitting machines in the TextielLab? Please apply via the online form.