How pantyhose are made – the fibers used for the materialOur previous piece on the manufacturing process involved in the making of pantyhose and nylon hosiery was a relatively shallow one in the sense that it did not go into details on how the actual fibers for the material were created and how the knitting process worked. This here is an opportunity as good as any other to correct that shortcoming though and to take a closer look at the technology involved in the creation of pantyhose.
Nylon is a plastic material widely used in the clothing industry, not just for pantyhose but for other types of garments too. The nylon we're mostly interested in though is Nylon 6,6. This type of nylon is obtained through the chemical combination of hexamethylene diamine (the base of the resulting substance) and adipic acid, an organic substance. The chemical process through which the two substances are combined is called polymerization. During polymerization, the adipic acid and the hexamethylene diamine molecules are combined with the goal of obtaining longer molecular chains. The polymerization that we're talking about in this case is a 2-step process. The first step is step-growth polymerization, followed by condensation polymerization.
Here's an illustration of the two substances involved and of the resulting concoction which bears the name Nylon 6,6 and which is the basic component of every pair of pantyhose ever created.
The actual chemical reaction involved in the process is much more complicated than the above scheme shows, of course. The bottom line about it is that it doesn't require an external catalyst (adipic acid will fulfill that role) and the only resulting byproduct is water.
Nylon 6,6 can also be made by combining adipoyl chloride with hexamethylene diamine, but in this case, some acid has to be added to the reaction to act as a catalyst. The byproduct of this reaction is HCl and not water.
Nylon 66 is a smooth, highly malleable material which is stored in chunks and pellets, and from which the actual nylon fibers used for the knitting of pantyhose are spun by specially designed mechanical devices.
The resulting nylon fiber is smooth, elastic, and unbelievably strong, but it still needs to be complemented with other materials to produce the type of pantyhose fiber we are used to these days.
The weight (see out DEN explained section) of the fiber is determined by the number of individual nylon filaments used for it. Spandex filaments are also spun into the yarn to increase its elasticity and the eventual figure-hugging capabilities of the resulting pantyhose fabric.
An important piece of information for us shiny pantyhose lovers: the luster/sheen of the pantyhose depends on the structure of the fiber. For shiny pantyhose, titanium dioxide (TiO2) is added to the nylon/spandex fiber – who would've thought that TiO2 was our friend?
The actual knitting process involved in the creation of panty hose is extremely intricate and it is entirely done by computerized machinery especially designed for this purpose. This is where pantyhose chemistry ends and cutting edge fine-mechanics and precision engineering comes into the picture. Through the use of such advanced equipment, pantyhose makers gain full control over every seam of the resulting product, but more on that in a different pantyhose blog post.