Of all the clothing associated with raw denim it normally shakes down to boots, chambrays, flannels, and sweatshirts. Many of the most revered brands in the raw denim world like Samurai, Studio D’Artisan, The Real McCoys, and The Strike Gold are also known for their amazing heavy terry and fleece sweaters.
These sweats can tip the scales and set back your wallet just as much as a high end pair of jeans and the manufacturing process for loopwheeled fleece is almost as labor intensive and historied as that of selvedge denim. So stick around to learn all about loopwheeling and the creation of some of the world’s best sweats.
On most knit garments today you’ll notice seams running from the armholes down to the hem where the front and back sides were stitched together. Older sweats and those made by high end reproduction brands don’t have those seams, or any really seams at all, because the fabric is created as one whole tube in a process known as “loopwheeling”.
Loopwheeling is done on machines that knit in a circle, stacking layer upon layer of cotton into a giant cylinder. That cylinder becomes the body of the sweatshirt so manufacturers need different machines to produce fabric for each size of sweat.
The machines are also incredibly slow. Most of them can only perform 24 rotations per minute, which is so slow you can count them and adds up to around one meter of fabric per hour. The snail’s pace is essential, however, as the machines places no tension on the cotton yarns as they knit to create a softer and denser fabric than pretty much anything else around.
Italian inventor Guiseppe Negra patented the process in 1926 and then licensed its use to American sportswear manufacturers like Champion and LL Bean. Hundreds of thousands of those iconic heather grey crewnecks we all know and love out of loopwheeled fleece were produced during the middle of the 20th century.
But as great as loopwheeled fleece is, it’s inefficiency led manufacturers to trade in their machines for modern knitters in the 1950s. No one has produced any more loopwheelers, so all 200 of the operational machines left are pushing 70 years of service or more. The only two loopwheeling operations left in the world are Loopwheeler in Japan’s Wakayama Prefecture and Merz B. Schwanen’s factory in Germany.
The garments made from loopwheeled fabric are quite expensive, usually around $200, but that’s understandable as one of only 200 machines left in the world has to work an hour and a half just to make the raw material. Below are some examples of loop wheeled sweats produced today: