Kanekichi Knitting Factory
Just an hour or so out of Osaka there is the city (prefecture of the same name) of Wakayama. Just outside the city I had the esteemed pleasure of visiting the Kanekichi knitting factory. Founded in 1920 they are one of the few remaining "tsuri-ami-ki" or loop-wheel knitting machine factories still around. They use old European and Japanese made loop-wheel, double knit and circle knitting machines. My eye was on the loop-wheel knitting machines, as these are the knitting machines that Tezomeya products are made on.
The first thing upon entering the factory floor was the amount of cotton dust floating around. It is very fine and accumulates like snow on anything sitting still. The noise is completely different from a denim factory or weaving factory, the sound is almost like a gathering of innumerable crickets.
The products are incredible, and the sheer amount of variety of fabrics that can be made on these knitting machines is astounding. The most popular being reverse knit (sweatshirts), and loop-wheel t-shirt knits.
There are several aspects to these machines that allow them to turn out superb fabric. The first are the "bearded" needles, and they allow the yarn to be knit under virtually no tension by not pulling on the thread. There are more than 1000 needles on each of these machines. Each and every needle is placed by hand, exactly spaced by the craftsman's eyes. A completely analog process...
The second aspect is that only one or two threads are being knit at a time. This process is slow, but the end result is a much fluffier material. The third is that the fabric falls onto a carriage that rotates with the machine. The fabric falls naturally and is not pulled, rolled, or put under tension.
The machines spin around under the top knitting mechanism, and is quite mesmerizing to watch. Since these are not modern machines they require a more craftsman approach to operating, and need more arduous attention. There were several factory staff constantly checking each running machine. After walking around and seeing the other machines I came to realize what makes the fabric that comes off of these superior to circle "sinker" type knitting machines. That, there is nothing lost in the process. If you put pure organic cotton thread on these machines the quality of that cotton comes out in the knit fabric. The only way to achieve this level of quality is through loop-wheel knitting machines.