I love handcrafting one of a kind socks. All the socks shown on this site were knitted by me on my reproduction circular sock knitting machine.
History shows some evidence that knitting machines have been around since the 16th century. However, it wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that they really hit their heyday. During World War I, sock machines were given to civilian knitters who would commit to cranking at least 30 pairs of socks as part of the war effort. Wool socks were important for soldiers who were fighting in the trenches—their feet often suffered from wet, cold conditions for days at a time. Such circumstances were optimal for trench-foot, a fungal infection that could turn gangrenous. Prevention of trench-foot called for several changes of dry wool socks per day.
At that time, a skilled hand knitter could produce a pair of socks in about a week. But an experienced sock machine knitter could crank them out in less than an hour! A pair of socks requires around 400 yards of yarn. In 1918 all yarn retailers in the U.S. were ordered by the War Industries Board to turn over their stock of service yarn to the American Red Cross, which coordinated the disbursement of yarn and sock knitting machines. The Red Cross also collected finished socks for shipping overseas.
The portable circular machine was made primarily for home use to “quickly” make seamless hosiery of all kinds.
My machine is a reproduction of the portable model called the “Speedster” and is made by the Erlbacher Gearhart Knitting Machine Company in Cape Giradeau, Missouri. I’ve nick named her “Ruby”. If you would like your very own pair of hand cranked socks please e-mail Aileen Campbell to discuss your requirements.
Watch a circular knitting machine in action in the video below.
For more information on the role of knitting in the war effort, check out Paula Becker’s article from August 17, 2004 titled Knitting for Victory—World War I .