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
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 email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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:
Of course, when each sock is finished,
it needs to meet the strict criteria of the Sock Inspection Team....