Grit Blogs > Acorn and Thistle

Circular Sock Machine Knitting

Acorn and ThistleThanks to a dear friend of mine, I have a new/old hobby to help keep me occupied through the winter: making socks on an antique circular sock machine. I’m still learning how to use it; the machine itself isn’t terribly complicated by design, but it definitely takes some finesse to get the process down. I’m also finding that it’s a rather ambidextrous operation, which is challenging for this extremely right hand-dominant gal. So, in addition to learning the ins and outs of the machine, I’m working on some fine motor skills that I’ve never had to try before.

CSM2

One of the things I love about the machine is its history: During World War I, the Red Cross launched a civilian campaign to help with a sock shortage being experienced overseas. Poor footwear coupled with the cold, wet conditions in the trenches were causing the soldiers to have serious problems with their feet. A fungal infection called trenchfoot could rapidly turn to gangrene if left untreated in those conditions. Wearing extra socks helped a bit, but they were in short supply. Since socks weren’t being mass-produced like they are now, it fell to knitters to make up for the shortage. However, even a fast knitter can only make so many socks in a week.

posterEnter the sock machine: An experienced sock machine knitter can crank out pair after pair, often averaging a pair an hour. Sock machines and supplies were distributed to women who would commit to making at least 30 pairs of socks per week for the war effort. In turn, they were allowed to keep the machines after the campaign was over.

After a while, many of these machines sat unused for years, gathering dust in attics and barns across the country. In recent years, a renewed interest has brought many of these machines out of retirement and back into service; a quick Google search on “circular sock machines” will bring up many results, and there are even a ton of videos on YouTube showing how to use the machines.

So, in addition to having some wonderful socks in my future, I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to help keep history alive by learning how to use my circular sock machine and sharing those experiences with others.

Do you have any hobbies that help keep the past alive?

robynd
10/8/2014 3:26:21 PM

Laura, how cool. I just inherited a circular knitting machine. Not sure if it will do anything as small as socks, but anxious to find some "spare time" to try it out. Dave, by the way, I do mend our socks. Goes pretty quick whether darning or patching. Even faster if I do it before the holes get big. If the holes get too far advanced, though, I do break down and get a couple packages.


nebraskadave
10/1/2014 8:17:53 AM

Laura, the many historical facets of those war years are quite interesting. Of course mine would be concentrated on the victory gardens but as with your sock machine, many other things were required during the war years. I find it interesting that you mentioned that after the war the machines gathered dust. I don't know of any one that I know that would even have a single thought about making their own socks. Folks don't even consider repairing holey socks. Even I don't try to repair socks. I thought about it once but quickly dismissed the thought and bought a package of 12 pairs for under ten bucks. I'm just now replacing them after about six years of use. ***** Have a great circular sock machine knitting day.