How It's Made, Perry Knitting Co. Edition
The Perry Knitting Company was one of many mills that produced clothing for customers in the town in which it was located and even around the world. It was an essential industry in Perry, but many people do not know the process that went on in the mills. The American Wool and Cotton Reporter wrote in 1913 that a textile mill brings together industrial machines, human skills, and a carefully organized process: "While it is possible to obtain many textile machines very nearly human in their automatic action, yet each one has some peculiarity that must be mastered by the operator, and such mastery is a necessity before the master workman is allowed such title...[M]any processes through which the fibre or fabric must pass demand skill that can only be acquired by failing to do rather than by doing the right thing. It is through making mistakes and then learning how not to imake them that one gains the greatest confidence in himself." (Bennett 731). In order to understand the Perry Knitting Co. we will be taking a short tour through the mills and learning what happens in each room.
First we head to the baler room in Mill #2 where large volumes of cotton are stored. In this area there are 500 pound bales of raw cotton waiting to be transported to the picking room. The PK eventually will purchase a Hyster Truck, which piles the bales in storage and moves them to the picking room, because not enough manpower is available. Lay-Up machines in this room move the bales at high speed to where they need to go. These bales are crucial in the production of making the company's Nitey-Nite sleepwear and other products. Next we travel to the picking and spinning room. In this section of the mill we see the picking and spinning machines turning the cotton into workable thread that will be used for the company's many products. These spinning frames create spindles of thread that will be used for sewing but also for the weaving room, in order to create solid pieces of fabric. Spindles are picked up to refill machines and worker stations to maximize the amount of product being made. Hundreds of spindles are made at a time. These spindles will then travel to the weaving room.
In the weaving room the newly spun thread is woven together to create cotton cloth for the Nitey-Nites. The looms work to hold the threads (warp) in a way that allows counter-threads (weft) to move through them, creating the strong bond of the weave. Weaving is one of the most important processes because it creates strength in the fabric to last for many years. It also removes any extra fibers off of the cotton, making a smoother fabric. Now it needs to be cut after this process in order to be sewn together, which brings us to the cutting room.
Here you can see batches of fabric, weighing 40-50 pounds, which are cut into the patterned pieces that will be sewn together to make the Nitey-Nites. Long strips of cotton are presented on a line to be cut; each worker needs to make sure the cut pieces are the right length and width. They also help to stack the fabric that is ready to go so that the workers in the sewing room have enough fabric to make as many sleepers as possible in a day. The scraps pile up, ready to be recycled to make more fabric. In the Cutting Room there are both men and women, which isn’t seen in many of the other rooms. In the sewing room, for example, the women sew and men supervise them. Let’s go take a look.
The name of the sewing room makes it seem like a simple process, like many of the other rooms in the mills, but there are different machines for different types of sewing and products. One woman sits at each of these stations and sews the fabric together to create Nitey-Nites and other products that the Perry Knitting Company made. The bundles of cut cloth wait for the next piece to be added. There is a sewing machine on every other bench and a seamer on the ones without a sewing machine, but each station has at least two large spindles of thread to make sure the sewers don’t run out. This room seems empty, but it’s full of potential for the bundles to become dolls, doll clothing or Nitey Nites. Fabric has many opportunities to transform into different articles that benefit us.
The process of creating a piece of sleepwear at the mill can take up to six weeks ("Knitting"). Now we're concluding in one of the smaller rooms where women and men work together to package the items that Perry Knitting company sells. We see a lot of boxes, cellophane, and other packaging supplies lined up against the wall waiting to be used for orders. All of this work creates more jobs within the mill, and consumers like to know that their products are handled by humans. We hope you enjoyed your tour, and appreciate your children's pajamas even more!
-- Auer, Mariellen. “What is the Difference Between Ring-Spun and Soft Spun Cotton?" Custom Apparel Source 26 Jan. 2017. Web link here.
-- Bennett Frank P. How to Build, Equip and Operate a Cotton Mill in the United States. Frank P. Bennett and Co., 1913. Courtesy Internet Archive. Web link here.
-- Kane, Nancy Frances. Textiles in Transition: Technology, Wages, and Industry Relocation in the U.S. Textile Industry, 1880-1930. Greenwood Press, 1988. Courtesy Internet Archive. Web link here.
-- "Knitting Display Next at Information Center." Perry Herald 12 Aug. 1965: 1. Web link here.
-- Smith, Thomas Russell. The Cotton Textile Industry of Fall River, Massachusetts; a Study of Industrial Localization. King Crown's Press, 1944. Courtesy HathiTrust. Web link here.