Friday, February 13, 2009

What I Know about Sock Machines

First a little about me -- I've been handknitting (y'know with 2 sticks and string?) for (um, lessee, K's 13 minus 1) 12 years now. I've made baby things, sweaters and vests for myself , lots of scarves, hats, shawls and socks. All by hand. Here's a sock in progress when it's being knit by hand: IMG_2339
Over the years I've amassed a bit of a stash. Those who've actually seen it, shut-up. Quite a lot of it is sock yarn.

IMG_2304 IMG_2299 IMG_2321

IMG_2357 IMG_2640 IMG_2351

See? That's just the sock yarn. What's a appealing about it? The colors, the self-striping patterns (really you just knit and it make stripes)

Plus sock yarn is easy to accumulate. I mean it's relatively cheap, and you only need 100g. So if I feel like buying yarn -- sock yarn fills the bill w/o breaking the bank.

I usually knit about 3-4 pairs a year. That's just socks. I knit other things, and I work full-time, take care of my family and read (throw in the occaisional sewing project, some spinning -- not exercise, spinning fiber into yarn on a spinning wheel? -- and you've got a very busy working-mom).

Ok, enough about me -- what's up with the sock machines? Well, you saw the sock yarn stash. At 3-4 pairs a year, it would take can do the math. With a sock machine I could have a pair of socks in about 2 hours. Yes, I know I can buy socks at Walmart -- let's not go there -- those of you who know what it feels like to have custom made socks for your own feet know better. And besides, I like making stuff. Although not handknit, hand-cranked socks are still custom made to fit your foot. Custom knit socks in 2 hours. Needless to say I had to have one.

So where did these guys come from? The first one, the Legare was manufactured in Canada. It's a #400, but according to this site it's got a Creelman crank. Which isn't all that strange because, from my understanding the company Creelman Bros were the actual manufacturers of machines sold by PT Legare. My machine is probably one of the later models putting its manufacture around the 1920's. Yes, it's an antique, although this one has been restored -- possibly another reason for the mismatched crank. (I also have my suspicions that the ribber didn't go with this machine -- the pin could have been misaligned somehow but in the state I received it, there's no way anyone could have ribbed with it). The Legare is all cast iron, solidly built and heavy.

The second machine I got on Ravelry, an on-line social networking site for knitters. It was billed as a 1924 Gearhart. Gearharts were made in Pennsylvania. It's very different from the Legare. But I didn't know that. What I did know was that it came with an 80 needle cylinder and a 100 needle cylinder and ribber dials to match (40 and 50 needle, respectively). What this means is I can knit a sock with finer yarn than my Legare, which came with a 54 and 72 needle cylinders and a 36 needle ribber dial (this was the typical setup that you got when you mail-ordered them). In fact, the 100 needle cylinder and 50 needle dial have smaller gauge needles to go in them (18g and 24g, respectively). The 80/40 and the cylinders/dial on the Legare take 12g needles. I can used regular sock weight yarn with these (don't worry, I have a stash of laceweight too).


The manuals are reproductions that I got seperately on eBay. The Gearhart base, and crank are cast iron but the rest seem to be aluminium, making it lighter than the Legare. Notice that this machine also came with a bobbin winder and skeiner. The seller I got it from also knit some socks on this machine and sent me samples of yarn I could use.

Why were these machines sold? So women could earn cash while working at home. Check out this ad from Good Housekeeping. In the book Knitting America, by Susan M. Strawn, on page 114 is another ad by The Auto Knitter Hosiery Co. It had testimonials from women and men across the country about how much they made during their spare time. It didn't really catch on, but during WWI the American Red Cross gave machines to people who would knit socks for our troups, and that worked out really well.

So where are the socks? I haven't made any yet. Give me a break. There's a learning curve. And, I've been pre-occupied by the machines themselves. They're really cool! I've been pouring over various manuals, the first machine came with 3 (remember? 2 were in French?), and there are other resources -- there's a sock machine list on yahoogroups and a csm (that's circular sock machine) group on Ravelry, there's even a history e-book that I've got to get my hands on. Country Rain has a basic "101" book you can get here. And Angora Valley has various manuals on-line and forsale here. Plus I've had personal instruction from here. Finally, I joined a guild here. Not to mention on-line tutorials they provide here.

Whew, that's all I know about Sock Machines. Well, not really. This link here, they make new sock machines...with brass toppers (first thing you thread the yarn through)...powder coated...with compound cylinders...and yes, I do know what that's for.

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