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Textile Innovation

Beyond the Edge

Its inherent natural qualities make wool perfect for seamless knitting, adding comfort and resilience to your workout gear.

Recognising that consumers' hunger for something new never ceases, brands, retailers and manufacturers have been rapidly developing the technologies they use, to ensure that they are well-placed to create something brilliant and new. Innovations can take many forms: from new machines and ways of thinking, to materials and products. In the apparel industry, the entire supply chain works together to create forward-thinking design. Seamless knitwear is certainly nothing new; seamless hosiery and underwear has been around for decades. But as technologies and fibres become more advanced, so too does garment construction, particularly when those garments are made from Merino wool.

In seamless garment technology, the ultimate in knitting technology, four major players – Karl Mayer, Santoni, Shima Seiki and Stoll – lead the pack. Whereas traditional wool base layer apparel was made by cut and sew production, which limited possibilities, the manufacture of modern-day next-to-skin base-layers employs seamless and at-knitting technologies. These technologies are being used to make an extensive range of mid- and outer-layer garments too. Seamless apparel is unique because it allows for a combination of different patterns and knit structures, such as a jersey knit next to a rib knit or eyelet, in different colours on a single piece of fabric. By engineering a garment to have features such as compression and breathability points on a single structure, it allows for greater diversity and enhanced comfort.

Leading sports brands across the world know all too well the importance of seamless knitting, particularly for high-performance sports apparel such as running, cycling and ski. They offer superior protection by making use of special compressed knitted structures that act as reinforced zones.

“You can achieve a lot of things with seamless that is not possible with other knitting technologies, such as close-to-the-body construction. Thomas Moe – Ortovox

“Seamless apparel has been a part of the sports apparel landscape for decades and has grown in popularity in recent times as we see breakthroughs in yarn – from Merino wools to performance polyesters and everything in between – coupled with advances in circular knitting technologies,” explains adidas Senior Director Running Apparel Craig Vanderoef. “We can now offer the consumer engineered body-mapped performance, without the irritation of seams, keeping the athlete cooler, warmer and even odour free. We can do all of this, and add performance visuals and engineered style components, all while reducing the waste within the fabric process. We achieve this by using yarn dyes and placed yarn performance instead of cutting up three or four fabrics and sewing them together. What this ultimately means is that athletes get next-level performance and a new level of styled comfort. Anything that offers that is going to be popular.”

In recent years, the activewear market's understanding of, and appreciation for, wool has grown exponentially. As a result, wool is now seen as a formidable opponent to synthetics in the seamless space. More wool-rich performance apparel in store has been the welcome result. “It's all about creating a better body climate for the end user and we achieve this through seamless innovation. [We create] high-performance, state-of-the-art technical garments [by using] comfort-mapping knitting techniques [and] ultra-fine Merino wool," explains Ortovox Head of Mountainwear Thomas Moe.

“You can achieve a lot of things with seamless that is not possible with other knitting technologies, such as close-to-the-body construction. Seamless allows us to work with comfort mapping to optimise performance; it allows us to create different zones, more open-mesh structures and more warm zones on the body where it’s either warmer or has more ventilation. It’s all about the body climate.”

By connecting all facets of the supply chain, The Woolmark Company, alongside its partners, takes full advantage of wool’s recent popularity spurt in the sports and activewear market. Companies throughout the supply chain are benefiting from this growth. New wool and wool-rich yarns are being developed specifically for this type of seamless knitting, with enhanced yarn strength through core or wrap-spun spinning technologies. “There are now a greater number of options in the market, across the entire supply chain,” says The Woolmark Company’s General Manager of Processing Innovation and Education Extension Julie Davies. “We work with and connect yarn suppliers, machinery manufacturers, garment manufacturers and brands to lead the way for technically advanced apparel. The greater engagement by spinners on developing new yarns, by engaging directly with sports brands for specific product developments, reflects the continued growth in this area.” 

Lisa Griplas has more than ten years experience in the media and communications industry. A journalist by trade, she spent a number of years working at a daily newspaper before moving to The Woolmark Company to take up the role of Global Editor, a title she holds today.