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The magic of my circular sock machine


Meet my circular sock machine...

It's a British turn-of-the-century antique Cymbal machine. The photo here, shows a cylinder with 86 upright needles. This one was beautifully cleaned and oiled for me. As a complete beginner, I was advised to buy a brand new machine, as they don't present so many quirky challenges. But this antique machine is just stunning, isn't it? It sits in my sitting room and doesn't look out of place at all. This means I can sit and crank when I fancy, and I don't have to set up and put away every time I work. The machine is shown here without yarn in place. The yellow basket 'thingy' in the centre of the cylinder (It will have a name, and I have books that will remind me, but I'm not too particular about the terminology) is used to weave new yarn from needle to needle, and is weighted down to pull the stitches and keep tension on the knitting until the item is long enough to hold a weight underneath the cylinder.


Here the machine is with its 'ribber' lid on. You'll see vertical slots around the sides of the disc. These all hold shorter needles, which move in and out as the yarn guide spins around and directs the needles up and down, in and out. It is the source of much foul language, and the most tricky part of sock making. There are several places on the machine to change tension, depending on yarn used and the stitch size required. Timing and tension is everything.



The yarn I'm using for these stockings is lace weight merino. It arrives in skeins (loosely coiled loops of yarn) that needs to be fed onto a wool winder. The wool winder will ensure my yarn feeds freely into the sock machine with an even tension. It takes a little while to wind 470 yards of yarn, even by this method.





Ready to start! I buy a few skeins of the same dye lot, because there tends to be slight shade differences with hand dyed yarns. If I make three stockings, two of them will match!







My stockings have a top hem that is stitched into itself when 50 rows are knitted.

You can see in this photo, I have started picking up the first row of stitches and have looped them onto the row being knitted. The pale grey yarn is 'waste' yarn. It keeps the cylinder threaded between stockings, so that I don't have to re-thread it each time.







The next row sets the eyelet holes where the ribbon will eventually be threaded.








 Then I'm away. Counting and changing tension and counting more (or forgetting count, if I'm tired or distracted). The stitches get smaller as the stocking progresses down the leg towards the ankle.










The most enjoyable stage for me, is the heel and toe shaping. By raising and dropping the needles at the farther side of the cylinder, I can increase and decrease stitches to bring shape.

As with all the other stages, it needs concentration and respect for the delicacy of the yarn.

 A broken thread at this point, takes a minute or three to repair when the stocking comes off the machine. But it's better not to allow breakages or mistakes to happen in the first place. Making the toe is exactly the same as for the heel. It feels so good to be able to disconnect the yarn and replace the 'threader' with the waste yarn.







Two stockings done. Yikes! Will they be the same tension? Length? Did I miss a dropped stitch?



Ready to cut away the waste yarn at the top hem, and 'kitchener' stitch the toe ends together. Again, it feels so rewarding to remove all the waste yarn from the toe, to be left with a finished stocking. Whoopee.








 And the finishing touches see the stockings gently washed, dried and steam pressed.

 This sets and corrects the shape of the stitches, giving a uniform, 'bought' look. I'm still amazed at how beautiful they turn out, and that I actually made them.

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  • The Witch's Britches on

    Thank you, David. It’s a beautiful machine, eh? Yes, I’ve thought about a video. I’d have to kerb the swearing and really focus to avoid it being a video of mistakes.

  • David on

    Absolutely fascinating..
    Always amazing to find out how things used to be done on a daily basis.
    Any chance of a video? x

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