The Art and
Science of
WHOLEGARMENT

Photography by Gottingham Styling by Yumeno Ogawa
Hair & Makeup by Momiji Saito Editing and Text by Kyosuke Nitta

WHOLEGARMENT—these seamless knitting machines, a world first, create a continuous knit.

To find out more about the endlessly innovative Shima Seiki and the 3D knits that have helped UNIQLO achieve gorgeous silhouettes, we visited the place where it all happens.

This cotton 3D knit dress has a draping, unrestricted silhouette that is quite striking. The volume sleeves showcase the 3D manufacturing of WHOLEGARMENT technology. The comfortable fit follows the body, from the neck down to the shoulders.

W's 3D Knit Cotton Balloon Long Sleeve Dress (Regular)

By gradually adjusting design highlights like ribbing, a 3D silhouette is achieved that naturally follows the lines of the body. Paired here with a flare skirt made from the same fabric, for a complete outfit.

W's 3D Knit Extra Fine Merino Ribbed Boat Neck Long Sleeve Sweater
W's 3D Knit Extra Fine Merino Ribbed Flare Skirt
W's Stretch Cotton Turtleneck Long Sleeve T-shirt

Limitless Possibilities

“Universal Space.” This concept was proposed by Mies van der Rohe, a master of modern architecture. In this case, “universal” means something close to “uniform.” Pointing to a lean, minimal structure of floor, ceiling, columns and walls not limited to a specific use, this fresh way of looking at architecture was a major influence on the design of the former Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, an iconic work by Kenzo Tange.

It would be no exaggeration to say that WHOLEGARMENT® knitting machines and knitwear, first successfully produced in 1995 by Shima Seiki at their headquarters in Wakayama Prefecture, are the embodiment of Mies’s idea of “universal space.” Unlike conventional methods for making knit products, in which the five main parts—front, back, right and left sleeves, and collar—are made separately, then finally sewn together, the latest “MACH2XS” WHOLEGARMENT knitting machine, in operation since 2015, knits the fabric in a spiral, following a knitting program entered into the design system, in a fully automated process. The first time you see this machine produce a garment in well under an hour, the precision and speed are enough to make your jaw drop, but this is only part of the appeal. Circular knitting eliminates the seams between sections. As a result, the garment has an elegant drape from any angle, and the finished product is not only lighter but more resilient, since it can’t come apart at the seams if it has none. By fully automating a process that was previously only achieved painstakingly by hand, we’ve solved the increasingly serious problem of a shortage of skilled labor. When used in concert with the “APEX 4” design system, another in-house creation, the range of options expands infinitely, from the handknit feel of Gauge 3 to the ultrafine Gauge 20, and by combining elements from the three million basic patterns included in the latest software, an incomparable breadth of expression is possible. As with Mies’s “universal space,” there are unlimited applications, recent examples of which include varying the knitting rate for different body parts to make minute adjustments to the fit, and other applications like manufacturing uppers for sneakers. As long as you have the design data, the machine, and the thread, you can make the exact same product anywhere in the world. From medicine to engineering, the applications are borderless. Because a stress-free fit can be maintained even in outer space, adapting to the changes in body shape and posture caused by microgravity, WHOLEGARMENT was adopted as onboard wear for the Space Shuttle in 2008, attesting to potential uses on a truly universal scale.

“MACH2XS” WHOLEGARMENTmachines like this one fillINNOVATION FACTORY inWakayama Prefecture.

Upon arrival, materials are sent through the winding machine. A sensor checks the thread for irregular thickness and foreign substances, and faults are eliminated.

Inspecting garment knitted on a WHOLEGARMENT machine. Each and every item is checked for damage and defects.

“God is in the details”

Words like “neo-futuristic” or “revolutionary” fail to do WHOLEGARMENT knitting machines justice. Most people would be stunned to hear it all started with a pair of gloves. Masahiro Shima, founder of Shima Seiki, invented the fully automated glove knitting machine in 1964. Starting from the clever and unique idea that if you connect the three middle fingers of a glove and point the thumb and pinky outward, it looks something like a sweater, he conducted an extensive trial and error process. In 1995, he presented the world with the first truly seam-free computerized knitting machine, which was celebrated at the ITMA exhibition in Milan as “Oriental Magic.” Twenty-five years later, these machines have made their way from tranquil Wakayama across the sea, being used in a wide range of fields. Hearing Shima say “I always knew that someday WHOLEGARMENT would become the global standard,” it’s hard not to feel a touch of romance.

UNIQLO became smitten with this uninhibited inventiveness and potential in 2015. Establishing “INNOVATION FACTORY” as a joint venture with Shima Seiki, we got things rolling with a 3D knit for what was then called Uniqlo and Lemaire, leading to such perennial favorites as our women’s cocoon sweater, with more new items coming every season. This season brings twenty-four new pieces, including our limited collections. Visiting the factory, we found the knitting machine chugging steadily away, and in no time our new pullover popped from a slot below. The process may be fully automated, but maintaining a high standard of quality when producing tens of thousands of garments isn’t easy. Hence a severe regimen of inspection for missed stitches, blemishes and minor soiling, and a carefully controlled operation, straight through packaging and shipment. When items are washed to control texture, inspectors manage shrinkage down to the millimeter, while technicians are always within sight of the WHOLEGARMENT machines. Strict rules govern how steaming and folding are conducted, and the tension in the post-production area of the factory is palpable. Playing off Mies’s expression “God is in the details,” the uncompromising attitude toward production is what makes the details of WHOLEGARMENT shine.

After the first inspection, items are washed to make subtle adjustments to texture.

Size patterns created on premises. Temperature of steam and contact time are highlyregulated.

WHOLEGARMENT® is a registered trademark of Shima Seiki Mfg., Ltd.

Share This Page