There are three different ways that the toes of socks are finished: hand linking, ‘rosso’, and ‘melo’. These days, almost all socks are done by the rosso method. By the ‘melo’ method, the toes are simply sewn closed by a sewing machine and so there is a significant ridge of material that remains. Furthermore, because rosso technology has advanced greatly, there are no advantages of efficiency of the ‘melo’ method, so it is very rarely used these days.
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 stitch 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 labor, 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.
Hand linking is a technique where the craft’s person matches every single stitch that is sewn together to close the toe of the sock. In the case of high-gauge socks, such as business or dress socks, there is demand for socks with the lack of ridge of leftover material at the toe, and so this method continues to be used even now.
However, when it comes to hand linking socks, production efficiency drops and there is a need for specialized skill. Thus, compared to the rosso method, it is several times more costly, which, when coupled with the decreasing cost of casual socks, there has been less and less demand for the hand linking technique. Because there is less hand linking work to be done, the hand linking machines have been abandoned or disposed of.
DTMX socks 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 serrated 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.