How My Sock Knitting Machine Journey Started
I was at an outdoor market and happened to notice there was a hall nearby with a big sign outside which said “craft stalls inside”.
Well I didn’t need asking if I wanted to go and have a look, I was straight in there… I can never resist anything craft related and love having a look at other people’s creations. I also love to buy at craft fairs because…
(1) Handmade items are usually well made and more unique than mass produced products.
(2) I like to support crafters because I know how much work goes into creating their items, and it’s always nice to get some sales.
Whilst I was looking around, I saw a woman sitting at a strange looking machine, the likes of which I’d never seen before!
I started talking to her and asking her about the machine… By this time I had spotted a rather big clue as to what the machine was for…. And that was the fact that she was sitting at the side of her stall which was filled with the most beautiful socks I’d ever seen! As you might be able to guess, it was a sock knitting machine. The lady was really lovely and let me have a ‘crank’ on the machine… Well I was hooked from that moment on!
My Search Begins
When I got home I started looking online to see if I could find one of these beautiful old machines, but I soon discovered that this was not going to be an easy task!
It was about now that I started kicking myself for not asking the lady at the craft fair what type of machine hers was… Or actually any details about it at all, other than you could make socks on it. I knew it was an antique one, but other than that I really had no idea.
As I researched further I discovered that these old sock knitting machines have made quite a revival and you can actually buy brand new machines that are being made today.
The new machines are absolutely beautiful, and obviously with buying a brand new machine, you know it’s going to work and will have a certain amount of warranty with it.
However, during my research I also discovered that the old machines had such a fantastic history to them that I really wanted an old one.
The Search Was Worth It
So I set about finding one, and after a couple of months of looking at online auction sites and local sales sites I found one! 🙂
Now, the one I found was in a sorry ole state, as you can see from the picture above, and wouldn’t even turn, but I made it my mission to breath life back into it… I was determined to get it working again.
There was no makers mark on it, there was a number, 1296, so I set about once again with my research trying to find one that looked similar.
It turned out I had bought a ‘Victoria Automatic Knitter’.
I also discovered that a sock knitting machine is referred to as a CSM, which stands for Circular Sock Machine.
Even though it was in a whole heap of mess, I was in love with it!
I knew I had to strip it all down, so I thought I had better take lots of photos to refer back to when I had to put it all back together again.
I wanted to record my progress, for my own benefit, and also for others that would go down a similar path of buying one of these beautiful old sock knitting machines… So I made some videos as I progressed with it and put them on YouTube.
When I decided I wanted to buy one, I remember how eager I was to find any information that could help me, so hopefully my videos will help other people as they look into restoring their own machines.
I really felt that my sock knitting machine needed a name, so as she is a Victoria Automatic Knitter… There was only one option for me… her name should be Vicky. So from now on I will be referring to her as Vicky. 🙂
Now, as I said previously, Vicky was in quite a sorry state when I bought her, but I was determined to give it my best shot at restoring her back into a working life.
I didn’t have any of the bits and pieces that usually come with a CSM, such as the weights, heel weights, cast-on bonnet, buckle, ribber or any spare cylinders.
What I did have was a grubby ole machine that had a 108 slot cylinder with needles (alas, I couldn’t save all the needles) and the yarn feeder mast.
So I set to work taking my sock knitting machine apart, making sure to keep all the parts organised, as I stripped each section down I kept all the bits and pieces together in little tubs and covered them in de-greaser. There was still some very old and dirty grease on some parts, which had actually helped preserve this old machine to some extent.
It took me a few days to clean all the parts … Not solid working, as some of that time the parts were left to soak in cleaning solutions. I used a toothbrush to get into all the crevices, and wet ‘n’ dry paper to sand down any surface rust. Although the paintwork was in a pretty poor state, I had decided not to attempt to repaint it at this point… At the time of writing this, I’m still torn between preserving it as the well-used piece of history with all the battle scars on show, or to strip the paint back and re-paint it to make it pretty again. So for now, I’ve sanded the rust off, but there are big patches where it is just bare metal with no paint covering at all, and this could cause more rust problems in the future… So I am open to suggestions on this.
To clean the needles I used ‘Isopropanol’ alcohol, a great cleaning solution, first of all soaking them in the alcohol and then wiping them clean and soaking them again… Then giving them a scrub with a toothbrush dipped in alcohol. Isopropanol was perfect for this job because it’s great for cleaning any grease or dust off, and then evaporates so doesn’t leave the needles wet or sticky.
Of the 108 needles, there were about 10 that I couldn’t save. It is always advisable to buy new needles when you buy an old sock knitting machine, but I wanted to save as much of the original machine as I could… Also, I couldn’t find any needles that I was confident would fit. I’m in the UK, and I know there are sellers of these needles in the US, but I was unsure if they would be the correct ones, and at $50 for 100 (I would have needed to buy 200) + shipping and import tax, I didn’t want to chance it.
I was advised, that I could just put every other needle in, so it would be a 54 cylinder, so that’s what I did.
With a 108 cylinder I could make bigger socks using a finer yarn… With the 54 cylinder I could make small sock with a fine yarn, or I could make them bigger because I would have the option to use a heavier yarn… So that’s my plan until I can find some more cylinders and needles.
So, my CSM was all clean again…. Now time to oil it.
These CSMs need regular cleaning, you can see how I clean and oil mine here
I’d bought some Singer sewing machine oil ready for just this occasion! I oiled every moving part of the CSM… And then started putting it all back together.
I did have to refer back to my photos, but honestly, it was a lot easier than I thought it would be… Then it was time for the big moment when I could test to see if it actually worked.
As I mentioned, I didn’t have a cast on bonnet, or any weights… and you really do need weights with these CSMs. I’d seen a video on YouTube where someone had used onion nets to cast on with…
As I didn’t have any onion nets, I improvised further and used a shower scrunchie (watch my video to see how I got on with that)…
I also made my own weights out of things I already had a round the house… I made some great heel weights with a coat hanger and a main weight out of an old door stop… Cheap and easy to make, but work like a dream. I have another video to show you how I did that….
I was able to cast on and test it out… It needed a few adjustments on things like the yarn feeder and tension, but then it ACTUALLY started knitting as I cranked it round!! Well I was so flippin excited!, my neighbours must have wondered what the heck was going on with all the noise I was making!
So Vicky was re-born, and I was so pleased I was able to save her from the scrap heap… I would love to find more of these CSMs to bring back to life as I think they deserve preserving. They have played such important roles in history.
A Brief History Of The Sock Knitting Machine
Marc Brunel, who was a French engineer and famous inventor living in the UK, built the first circular knitting machine in 1816. This was to change the face of knitting machines as it was now possible to create a seamless tube of knitted fabric. It’s recorded that in 1866, The American born, Henry Josiah Griswold, patented a knitting Machine in Britain for “Improvements in Knitting Machinery”. He subsequently patented further improvements, the most notable being in 1878 with the addition of a second set of needles in a disc atop of the machine laying horizontally to the side needles, which enabled rib knitting, a ribbed cuff was then easily achieved.
During World War 1 the circular sock knitting machine had a massive revival in America when a huge number of socks were needed for the troops. Trench foot was a major problem for the men on the front line and they needed to dry their feet and change their socks at least 3 times a day. Women at home were encouraged to hand knit socks to help with the demand, but even with this help, the demand was not being met.
This is where the only female member of The Red Cross Central Commission, Mabel Boardman, stepped forward. She realised that more needed to be done and some of the home knitters were encouraged to learn how to use sock knitting machines at the Red Cross headquarters and knit a perfect pair of socks in 40 minutes. It is speculated that this one act changed the course of the war as previously there were so many soldiers that suffered terrible and life threatening gangrene caused by trench foot.
It is estimated that trench foot killed 2,000 American and 20,000 British soldiers during WWI… and many more thousands had their feet amputated to save their lives. So these figures really show how socks were desperately needed.
During the Great Depression many sock knitting machine companies sold their machines to women to use at home. The women paid off the cost of the machines by making socks for the companies… Once the machine had been paid off in this way they were then able to use them to earn money from home by making socks to sell themselves. For many of the women it made them independent of men as they could earn their own income and they were not then obliged to get married and be ‘looked after’ by their husband. These were obviously very different times when there were not many well paid jobs available to women.
In the UK popularity for sock knitting machines dropped drastically, and during WWII many of them were melted down and recycled to use for munitions along with many thousands of metal items at that time.
This is a big part of why they are now so scarce in the UK, but as they have made such a big revival in recent years more are being imported to the UK from America and Canada. And as I previously mentioned, there are new ones being made that look fabulous and work exceptionally well. Also, if you buy one of the modern machines you get all the back up and support to go with it.
My Victoria Automatic Knitter, Vicky, was developed and sold by W &
J Foster of Preston in the UK, I think in the early 1900s. I feel like I need
to take good care of her as I consider myself the current custodian and she
will be cranking away with a new owner long after I leave this earth.
This was the first knitted tube I made,
with help from Vicky. 🙂
I really have enjoyed bringing Vicky back to life, and now I’m on the search for more because I really want to save as many of these beautiful old machines as possible.