Those who have followed my blog for a long time know that I am the owner of an antique circular sock knitting machine (CSM) though not the successful user of one. My heavens, it's even a category over there on my sidebar! For all the good that wishful thinking has done me. Well, as the farm season wound down, then the holiday knitting got wrapped up (yes, I guess I really could do a post on that soon), I started thinking about other ways my small farm could contribute to our regional Fibershed movement.
Socks! One the machine! Of course, that would be a perfect small contribution, since so many people need to wear them, especially in our Northern California winters. I discovered that none of the mills within our region had the capacity to make fine yarns, i.e, fingering or sock weight, from local wools. That kind of tooling hasn't been needed in a long, long time, what with most of the socks being made in China, and the commercial spinning too, probably. However, it is a concern that hasn't gone unnoticed. The Fibershed has become a non-profit organization, continuing to search for the holes in localizing what we wear, and the idea of setting up a small mill that can produce sock yarns is in the works - or, at least, on the list. Hopefully, within a few years such a mill will exist in Hopland, California, and I can send wool to them.
In the meantime, I thought I better work on my skills. Now, I didn't always know how to drive, or to spin yarn with a wheel... so the good advice given to me when I was learning to spin, of practicing 20 minutes a day, came back to me during the second half of my two-week winter break. In that quiet moment between Christmas and New Years travels, I made my one and only New Year's resolution - to master the CSM and crank out socks to sell locally by the end of 2012.
First, I spent some time viewing the vast information now available on the web, especially some videos on YouTube and posts by the Soxophone Player. It is truly amazing how much more help there is now than when I first bought my machine back in 2005! I cleaned it up, fiddled around with the tension, and finally produced two scarves, one for me and one for Hubby Dear, in time to take with us to visit relatives at Lake Tahoe on New Years Eve. While the ball dropped in Times Square, I was closing the ends on the two tubes...
The manly-looking scarf on the left is Wooly Wonka's blue-faced leicester sock yarn, and was finished by a simple three-needle bindoff technique. You see, manly men don't wear fringe. The green one on the right is Austermann Step, which was a dream to work with on my sensitive machine, and was closed with delicate fringe. I was just sooo very pleased to finally have made something with this fabulous technology from a past era. Plus, the machine just looks so steampunk!
When we returned home from New Years revelries, I started a real sock, using some Knit Picks Simply Stripes that has been in my stash for years (I don't think they even carry this any longer!). Sock making involves heels and toes, and I carefully followed some printed directions, resulting in a lightbulb moment, where I caught on and realized that short row toes were just short row heels, but at the end of the foot! I know, not brilliant, but it did make it possible to finish a sock. However, it turned out that sock is probably for a men's size 10 or larger foot... and the yarn is just too girly for DH, and too wooly for eldest son, who actually needs long socks for snowboarding. I carried on valiantly, in the face of a beginner's mistakes, and the knowledge that my family testers had bailed on me.
Let me take a moment to describe the photo at left. The machine shows half the needles up - that is because I am about to do the short row toe... you can see how the yarn is fed to the needles, but not the stand behind it that elevates the yarn coming off the ball (in my case, rolling around in a bowl, though many people use cones and cone holders). That metal on the cylinder to the left of the yarn carriage, that looks like an arrow pointing left, is the tension marker, and the knob to adjust tension is just above it. You can see the crank handle at the bottom right and how the sock comes out the bottom. The fishing weight is attached to a bent fork that can be placed in the sock and moved around to add weight where needed. The wood clamp on the already-worked section holds the main weight, not visible in the picture. The entire contraption is clamped onto a stool, making a nice and somewhat portable workstation.
This second picture gives a better view of the striping pattern, the fishing weight and clamp arrangements, and DH's banjo in the background. Also grandbaby's pink rocking chair and a sock monkey. Maybe I should try a little harder at photo composition so they won't come out so random.
I kept on watching videos, and started a second pair of socks, this time using Mega Boots... splitty, though makes a nicer fabric than the Knit Picks yarn (which went through the machine in an well-behaved manner). Things were going too smoothly... thought I could try to follow a video that showed a supposedly easier way to make heels with less fiddling with the needles. Unfortunately, it led to more fiddling with dropped stitches, and swear words not usually heard in my house. I decided my beloved would wear them no matter what, and charged ahead to make a second that wouldn't entirely match the first, but would go back to the short row heel method I do understand! Sock #2 is now all the way to the foot, just needing the toe section completed. I will wait to photograph it until I have the toes closed and a few cosmetic flaws cleaned up... I am beginning to understand what it means when you run across the terms 'seconds' or 'irregular' on clothing in the stores. He, he.
I am off to a good start with my resolution.. how are you doing with yours?