A hand-linked toe provides comfort to the toe and adds durability to the sock. But what is it; why is it still in use, and how can you know whether or not your socks were made with a hand-linked toe?
All socks are made on circular knitting machines, a machine invented in the early 1800’s. Back then, the knitting machines were manually operated. A crank would set the gears in motion that power a circular set of knitting needles. The uncompleted sock would come out as a tube of fabric at the lower end, and all the socks required was ‘pressing and a little hand-stitching to close the toe’, according to this old advertisement for the ‘auto-knitter’.
Over the years, these hand-powered machines have made way to industrial examples, but the process remained largely unchanged. Thread is spun and guided to the knitting machine, where stich by stitch and row by row the socks is built up in circular form. The only difference being, that with all stages of the production automated, hand linking the toe quickly became the most time-consuming step in the process. Many factories chose to cut down on cost and labour, and when the fabric comes out of the knitting machines, simply close the sock with a seam stitch using cheap nylon, and chop of the excess. This leaves a bulky, uncomfortable seam on the inside of the socks.
Bresciani is one of the few manufacturers of socks that still operate in the old way, with the socks closed by hand. What this implies is that, when the sock leaves the knitting machine, it is moved to a separate flat-bed machine, where the points of the sock (the final stitches on the outer edge of the sock) are matched together one by one on a serated wheel, and looped together with a single thread of cotton, wool, silk or cashmere fabric. This results in a seam so flat, that you cannot feel it when wearing the socks.
Only four people at Bresciani are allowed to do this work, out of a workforce of more than 30 people. It takes years of experience and has to be done just right, since it is arguable the most important step in the sock making process. But these are the details that make a quality sock.