This project weds three interests dear to me: upcycling natural fiber yarns, knitting socks with split "tabi" toes, and antique machines. Its goal is to add a restored antique Auto Sock Knitting machine to my small workshop of hand-powered winding and skeining tools that I use to recycle used sweaters into knitting yarn.
My small Seattle workshop, which happens to be in a corner of my bedroom and does triple-duty as space for knitting, sewing, and recycling yarn. In the background is a pile of used sweaters ready to be unraveled.
I started hand-knitting split-toed socks in my last year of graduate school and quickly encountered two problems: one, they take upwards of fifteen hours per pair to complete, and two, almost everyone who sees them wants a pair.
Fast-forward five years and I started recycling yarn from thrift-store sweaters, a great source of fiber but available only in a fine-gauge lace weight, beautiful for shawls and scarves but maddening for practical garments like socks.
Flack-back to eight years ago and a museum internship, and my first encounter with an Auto Sock-Knitting Machine. An elegant tool for turn-of-the-century cottage industry, the machine eliminates the hand-knitting and creates a viable way to produce socks and stockings for small-scale income.
Fast-forward to this year, and my realization that an Auto Sock Knitter would allow my small upcycling business to expand into creating socks from recycled yarn, as well as expanding the fiber types that I recycle. I am currently limited to wool and wool-blend sweaters, due to the nature of my upcycling techniques, but a sock-knitting machine would allow me to recycle pure cotton, silk, and rayon yarns, as well as my existing wool and wool blends.
Hand-cranked Auto Sock Knitter manufactured by the PT Legare company. Photo by Angora Valley Fibers (used with permission).
I plan to offer a variety of socks knit on the Auto Sock Knitter, starting with the split-toe socks that launched the idea. While the toes of these must be hand-knit, I can transfer the "live" stitches to the sock machine and complete the laborious foot and calf portion of the socks. I estimate that I can produce one pair of socks in less than two hours using the auto-knitter.
I will also offer plain-toe socks made on the machine, with my emphasis being on using recycled yarns and natural fibers to produce them. Socks will be offered in several weights, from light-weight socks made with one strand of yarn to mid- and heavy-weight socks made from two or three strands of yarn. I am not aware of any other person or shop selling recycled socks such as I plan to offer, and believe that this is a viable product to market.
Two pairs of hand-knit socks, examples of possible products and Kickstarter rewards. On the left are Plain low-calf split toe socks; on the right are knee-high Deluxe socks. Both feature foot and leg ribbing and short-row heels, construction methods also used with the Auto-Sock Knitter.
Kickstarter funding will be used to purchase a restored and guaranteed sock knitting machine, currently priced at $1,000 to $1,800 online. Any funding not used for the purchase of the machine itself will be used for the additional equipment needed for its operation, such as a wooden stand and a row counter. Any funding needed over the $1,500 Kickstarter funds will be drawn from Keystone Art & Craft operating reserves.
Socks will primarily be sold online in my Keystone Art & Craft Etsy shop, on a pricing scale similar to that listed in the Backer Rewards section of this project. Socks will be listed online following completion of those socks ordered by Kickstarter backers.
Auto Sock Knitting machines were first produced at the beginning of the 20th Century and consist of a cylinder set with movable needles. They are cleverly designed and capable of knitting in both stockinette and rib stitches, as well as knitting a turned heel and toe cap. The Circular Sock Machine Society of America's website contains more information about the machine and its history.
While I do not have any of my own images of the Auto Sock-Knitter, seeing as I do not yet have the knitter itself, the auto-knitting enthusiast community provides some fabulous online media, including this start-to-finish video by ikraftr (used with permission):
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