Thursday, November 10, 2011

Circular Sock Knitting.

Recently I have been learning to knit socks on a CSM (circular sock knitting machine) that a friend of mine is refurbishing for the owner.  Circular sock knitting machines were originally manufactured in the late nineteenth century and continued to be produced up until the second world war.  Sock knitting became a cottage industry early in the twentieth century as women began turning out socks from home, with the machine being purchase by an "employer".  Some machines were purchased by a community and passed from house to house through the year as a housewife would produce socks for her family.  A friend of mine recalls a CSM at home when she was a child, and remembers the fun of turning the crank.  They are quite fun to use and almost magically produce socks, though I think I still prefer to knit them by hand.
 The guide feeds the yarn into the top of the carrier.  (At the bottom of the cylinder in the picture)  This carrier is moved counter clockwise around the cylinder by turning the crank.  As the yarn is carried around the cylinder, it is caught by tiny latch hook style needles that pull the yarn through each previous stitch creating a knit tube.  Each sock size is determined by 1) the size of the cylinder (60 sts, 80 sts etc - number of needles it will hold) and 2) the number of rounds between the heel and toe.  The heels and toes are shaped in a similar manner, by only knitting on half of the needles. When you are finished you end up with a long, funny shaped scarf, like this:

The yellow yarn is waste yarn that is used to start the sock, the white yarn to the left is the division between the first and second sock, and you can see a heel at the center top of the picture.  All that's left is to stitch down the top hem, and graft together the toe. (On my second pair of socks we were able to do the hem at the cuff in one step on the machine, eliminating the extra finishing step.)
My friend brought the knitting machine to knit night at our lys (local yarn shop) Black Sheep Yarns to let everyone see how a CSM worked.  (I had forgotten to take pictures to show you all while I was making my socks, so I sat and posed for a shot.)


  1. I liked reading about how CSMs came to be. Your stripey socks turned out great!!

  2. Thanks Preeti, it's always more interesting to me to know where something came from too. I just learned the other day that the latch style hooks used in knitting machines were invented in 1806. They've been around a long time.