The Rite Stuff Pocket T-shirt first sample.
Loopwheel: it's taken on an almost mythical status in the heritage clothing scene, though what exactly is loopwheel and why are some of the best tees and sweats made with it?
Loopwheel is a way of knitting cotton yarns with a special loopwheel machine. Currently, there are only two factories in the world that make tube-knit, loopwheel fabric. One is in Wakayama, Japan, and the other is in the Swabian Alps of Germany with Merz B. Schwanen. The Rite Stuff's Pocket T-shirt is made with loopwheel cotton fabric from Wakayama.
Loopwheel machines hard at work in Wakayama Prefecture, Japan.
The loopwheel machine was pioneered in the mid 1920s, and patented in 1926, by Italian Guiseppe Negra. The idea is that the fabric machine hangs and the fabric it knits falls from the machine, placing no tension on the fabric. This allows loopwheel machines to create a denser and softer cotton fabric. Negra licensed his machine to companies including Champion and L.L. Bean, and thus many vintage T-shirts and sweats you can find from the late 1920s, and 1930s-1940s, used loopwheel fabric. The only way to recreate this fabric today is to use the tubeknit, loopwheel machines from these two surviving factories.
Vintage loopwheel sweatshirt.
Loopwheel machines began to be replaced by flat-knit machines in the 1950s, and the last machines were made in the 1970s. The reason for this was that the loopwheel machines worked very slowly. In this case, at a rate of 24 rotations per minute, and thus can only make one meter of fabric per hour. What's more, each machine can only make one size, as it makes a tube of fabric, so factories needed different machines to make different sizes of garments. That's why many T-shirts these days have side seams: it's cheaper and faster to make a flat knit and sew the T-shirt fronts and backs together than to use tubeknit, loopwheel fabric. Because the loopwheel machines only knit in tubes, the T-shirt I'm offering only goes up to XL; the Wakayama factory doesn't have a machine that knits a XXL tube. However, all these factors are crucial for getting the dense, soft, and durable cotton fabric that can only be made with a loopwheel machine.
In the case of our pocket T-shirt, I've chosen a weight that is not light, but not heavy, and instead is just right. Although it might be a touch heavy for high 90s (30s Celsius) with high humidity, it's bound to be a go-to T-shirt without feeling flimsy, or like a suit of armor. It's just rite.
Expect the loopwheel pocket T-shirt in April!