Circular Sock Machine Knitting
By Laura Damron
Thanks 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.
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.
Enter 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?
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