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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wet Wednesday- good day to crank socks

Oh it's a miserable wet and windy Wisconsin Wednesday here... and the dampness is just chilling us right down to the bones.

I find the best thing to do on a day like this is work on socks... warm wooly socks! This is what I use to make my socks----  a 1925 Gearhart Circular Sockknitting Machine!    It can do various sizes by increasing or decreasing tension and making the feet longer or shorter.

I work on socks for private customers, 
or to list in my own online Etsy shop:
and sometimes in large batches for specialty stores as custom orders. 

Many of you know, I have owned a number of these funky antique circular sockknitting machines.  They were designed back in the late 1800's and every few years a new model was released with improvements.  I like the ones made in Clearfield Pennsylvania by a Mr. Gearhart.  I have had ones from 1894, 1904, 1908, 1914, and a few from 1925.  My most favorite is the 1925.   But they are not for the faint of heart!   These machines are the most frustrating and finicky buggers!  You ask "WHY?"   well.......

I love the wool socks.  Once you wear wool, you will never go back to store bought polyester junky socks. Even in the summer, natural wool wicks away the sweat on your feet in sport shoes, and your feet are less subject to callouses or problems when you wear wool socks.  I wear them all of the time and have a *wardrobe* of color choices.  I wash them with a few swishes in a sink with hair shampoo (yes, wool IS hair) and hang to dry over the edge of the tub, or on a clothing rack.  Some are thick socks for wearing in boots or clogs, others are thin and can be worn in dress shoes.  I can make the "washable wool" types, but they have more nylon or acrylic in them, and less wool.  I do make them, but prefer the "all wool" on my own feet.

Operating a CSM (Circular Sockknitting Machine)  is frustrating, and you need a variety of  specialty woolen yarns to try before you find one that will even work right.  Sometimes the machine is working just fine, and you stop and go to bed.  The next morning the gremlins have taken over and it won't work again till you change out the yarn to something else. ARGGHH!   Most of my socks have anywhere from $8 to $14 dollars worth of yarn in them.  So by the time I crank them out and close the toes (about an hour a pair) it is a GREAT bargain to buy them for only $20 a pair.  I don't get rich, but I enjoy the process.

To operate one of these machines (providing you even find a working one in good condition) you need a lot of patience, good eyesight, and a mechanical understanding of how they function, besides basic understanding how knitting is formed by looping of stitches together to form fabric.  The socks come off the machine one after another, with scrap yarn in between. If you manage to make two socks in a row with no mistakes, the same number of rows, then you finally have a pair!   It took me well over three months of learning time to produce a real pair.  Then they need to be cut apart, and the toes carefully seamed up with another row of knitting called a Kitchner Stitch to make a seamless toe.  Diabetics love my socks for that very reason!  NO lumpy seam like store bought socks.

What is interesting about the Gearhart machines is that the patents have now been released by the family to let a new company produce them again...  you can find them at: Erlbacher Gearhart Knitting Machine Company

This is a little writeup I have printed on a handout at my events: 

Circular sock knitting machines were developed in the mid 1800s in order to decrease the time needed to knit a pair of socks. The very first machines were quite small and had cylinders that were made of wood. The wood proved to deteriorate too quickly however and later machines were made of all metal. In 1888, after spending many years perfecting the sock knitting machine, a man named Joseph Gearhart started a company to produce them. It was the first such company in the United States and was located in Clearfield, Pennsylvania.
For many years these strange looking, hand-cranked devices, were sold by door-to-door salesmen. The idea of using a machine to make socks was not very well received by traditional hand-knitters, and interest in the machines did not catch on very quickly.
During World War I there was such a shortage of socks overseas that the American Red Cross gave away the machines to people who would agree to knit a quota of socks for the infantry.
The effort was a success and because so many socks were produced in such a short time, the sock knitting machine gained a good reputation across North America and Europe.
After the war was over circular sock knitting machines became very popular. Several different companies in the U.S. and Canada produced them. During this time they were frequently marketed as a way for housewives to earn extra money while staying at home.
Production of the machines ceased in the 1930s although they were made again briefly in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Today, these machines are often found in attics, antique stores, etc.
On a machine that is working well, a pair of socks can be knit in about an hour. Mittens, scarves, and other items can be knit on them as well.

Published courtesy of John Loeffelholz

From time to time, a group of my fiber friends and my sister, will demonstrate fiber arts and tools at festivals or craft shows.  I have been known to dress up in pioneer type clothing to show spinning, weaving and sock cranking. Some of our group have even been featured on the local news, in newspapers and once the TSC store (Tractor Supply Company) ran a 2 page spread about my fiber arts in their nationwide magazine "OUT HERE".  I got to be a "Diva For the Day" as they interviewed me and did a photo shoot of my fiber toys and down in my Loom Room Studio.  What fun!

Now... in case any of you would like to try to find a machine, 
here is some information I provide in a handout at my demonstrations: 

Circular Sock Knitting Machine 
Information Sources
Yarn, needles, classes, videos and accessories 
available from Kathi at Apple Hollow Fiber Arts, 
Sturgeon Bay, WI    www.applehollow.com
Cheryl Huff offers a section on her for private folks to post 
their machines for barter or trade or sale.
or email Cheryl at: Cheryl@hangtown-fiber.com
Company making NEW Gearharts from old patents:
Deb specializes in custom rebuilding and 
refurbishing machines from her inventory. 
I have refurbished machines for sale from time to time. 
My daytime number is (608) 262-2181 
and evening phone is (608) 278-1427 or email.
Thanks. –   John Loeffelholz   jdholz@mhtc.net
Donna Peters at http://www.countryrain.com/ 
restores and refurbishes the old machines ... 
I have a free small parts listing for sock machines, 
and also articles to help the beginning sock knitter.  
Barry Travis   kawblt@aol.com
Bonnie Smola-   
CSM expert and has a sockknitting newsletter   
Yarn, needles and wonderful helpful person: 
Pat Fly, owner Angora Valley Fiber www.angoravalley.com 
informative pages on circular socknitting machines:
www.yrstation.com                     www.csmsa.org

Of course, when each sock is finished, 
it needs to meet the strict criteria of the Sock Inspection Team....


  1. You have far more patience than most! I think one of the more exciting days I have had was when I was filmed for a feature on the old Carol Duvall show. I had been on local TV before, but this was National! Every once in awhile they rerun it and the traffic on my web site explodes. I usuallyl make a few sales too!

    Which do you like to do better? Socks or rugs?

  2. I enjoy the weaving of rugs, towels and blankets much more... but the socks are fun and sell well too.

  3. I am so envious of your sock machines! I would love to look for one and maybe buy one some day, but I'm afraid I won't be able to figure it out by myself and then it will just sit and I'll be stuck! thanks for all the links, maybe I can do it, I think I can, I think I can....

  4. @Jeanne - pssst ---I made my own self-produced DVD on how to operate one and make a basic sock. So if you find a machine, you can get my DVD and learn all on your own!

  5. Very nice post, as always! :)
    I haven't "cranked" in quite awhile..."at least" 3-4 months! Here in Madison, we have a monthly gathering of CSM crankers who meet at one of the Madison Library branches. It is always a nice group of people who are more than happy sharing ideas and helping others. It is open to anyone interested in CSM's. Don and I attended one of these gatherings before I had bought mine and that visit made up my mind. One can only drool over them online for so long! ;) Soon thereafter, I ordered my NZAK from New Zealand. The Gearhart's hadn't been in production then.....mine is a 2009 Blue NZAK. You certainly can't stress enough about the CSM's having a learning curve......they're not hard to work, but it seems one has to have an "Ah Ha!" moment, and things get better from then on. ;)
    Again, I'm always happy to see a new post from you.

  6. I love the sock inspection team! So, do your socks come with added dog hair? :)

  7. I am so eager for cast and brace to come off my hand so I can be cranking again! I am really envious!

  8. Good Lord woman! That's a lotta socks! And I thought my sock drawer was kinda full.
    I live such a sheltered life.

  9. Holy smokes I love this!! Socks are on my list of new things to learn in 2012. I'm starting small on 4 dpns, LOL!

    Do you have a particular yarn brand you use for the socks?

    Thanks for the nudge to combine my blogs. You and Sunny let me know it's ok to talk fiber, LOL! Cheers! ~M

  10. @Jammin' - Yup.. I combine them all into one blog.

    My Fiber friends can see my camping stuff...
    My Camping friends can see my fiber stuff...
    And my family has to just put up with it ALL!

    (as for brand, I get a lot of my yarn on wholesale cones from a spinning mill, but also I LOVE the Fisherman Yarns from Lion Brand in the big 8 oz. skeins)

  11. Hi Karen,
    I've been lurking for several months. Your post on CSM's was great and I just wanted to say thanks for an informative and fun blog. After a long intense week of focus and experimentation, I finally learned the quirks of my CSM and an now making nice socks using the 72 slot cylinder. Next is learning to use the ribber.
    What size cylinder do you prefer?
    Steve P
    aka "Bobbin Doctor"

  12. It's Wednesday again and not only WET, but SNOWING!!!

    I like the 60 slot cylinder which lets me use thicker yarns, and I don't ever use my ribber. I like the mock-ribbed hem top socks better. Just my humble opinion, but it's hard to see down inside and catch any mistakes when the ribber is on.

  13. Oh man! I happen to be in a sock mood, and these are beautiful. NO! MUST RESIST. WHY RESIST? I can't resist, can I?

    The Good Luck Duck

  14. HI! Wonderful blog. I just bought an antique 1908 Gearhart. I spent my 3 day holiday restoring it, and I knitted my first pair of socks! These machines are wonderful!!
    I retire in 7 years, and I am planning to "snowbird", and travel the National Parks and Forests during the summer, and winter in Needles California. Your blog is inspirational!
    Happy New Year!!!

  15. Fantastic. thank you for your blog. I just recently purchased a Passap E6000 knitting machine and discovered it can do circular knitting ie socks. So difficult to find good woollen socks in South Africa. Chinese crap every where. That got me looking at csm's. Fascinating machine. It's going to take some time before I will be able to afford R1000.00 dollars, with the ZAR in the toilet as it is ( 16:1 ) THANKS ZUMA. But this is definitely on my wish list. Thanks once again


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