Vintage Sock Knitting Machines 101

Years ago, I was part of an expedition to the For Bare Feet sock factory in Southern Indiana.

19_CoronaSchubert30erOkay, it was actually just a factory tour with some friends of mine where I stood in awe at huge stockpiles of threads and yarns, and industrial knitting machines which made my modest collection of knitting paraphernalia seem very humble indeed.  But what I remember most (apart from the free socks) is the vintage knitting machine which got the company started.

These machines, many of which are pushing a hundred years old, seem very much like spiny sea creatures at first glance–all prickles on the outside and a soft vortex in the middle.  Once you’ve seen one in action though, it begins to make sense how these cousins to the double-pointed-knitting-needle produce socks in a remarkably similar fashion.

So with that being said, here are some videos to get you started in the vintage world of sock machine knitting.  The first video focuses on the history of these beauties.  The second focuses on the basics of how they work.

First Video Link: Antique Sock Knitting Machine History from The Journal Gazette on Vimeo.

Second Video: Embedded Below

This final video is kind of a bonus to demonstrate exactly how the stitches are created.  The ‘needles’ on the sock knitting machines shown above are very closely related to latch hooks.  Both have a curved hook at the top, and a latch which closes over the yarn when pulling the stitch through.  If you do not have any experience with latch hooking, watch the video below, specifically from 1:17 to about 2:10.

Wrapping the piece of yarn around the shank of the latch hook and inserting it in the mesh is analogous to the previous row of knitting on the sock machine: it creates a foundation.  When the yarn is pulled through the latch hook, it is analogous to the yarn being wrapped around the knitting needle/hooks by the shuttle.  Finally, when the latch hook closes and pulls out of the mesh is analogous to when the knitting machine needle/hook lowers, pulling the yarn through the previous stitch to form a new stitch.  The motions are the same because the latch hook/machine knitting hook have the same structure.

So there you have it.  For more information on these mechanical wonders, I’m putting some links at the bottom of this post.

Until next time, Happy Knitting!

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