One of the best things about where I live, at least to me, is that I can literally walk to the New York State Sheep & Wool Festival. It is known by aficionados simply as "Rhinebeck" or by the local aficionados as "Sheep & Wool". Every fall in October, usually at the peak of the leaf peeping season and my personal favorite time of year, thousands descend upon the Dutchess County Fairgrounds to explore this amazing festival. And this year the weather was beautiful!
My sister came up from Virginia for the weekend and we spent one whole day at the festival happily roaming around between the sheep barns, the countless vendors' stalls for yarns, yarns, and more yarns, patterns, accessories and gifts. We enjoyed the local food-tastings and local artists' booths, the sheep dog herding show and get this, a circular sock knitting machine demonstration!
Like a true fiber geek, I was riveted. I enjoy knitting socks for many reasons, but as for most hand knitting, expediency is not one of them. This machine seemed pretty darned incredible. I started imagining all the amazing socks and gloves and mittens I could knit. It was beautiful, a vintage machine from the early 20th century most likely used by an individual making socks for sale. I've designed socks for commercial production, but have never actually seen a circular sock knitting machine in person. I know this is very different than industry knitting machines, but it was very cool to see.
Olive Abbruzzese, a technical designer for knitwear who works in the industry in NYC, gave the wonderful demonstration, making a complete sock right before our eyes. It began with a beautifully knitted in double cuff, for which she created a picot turning edge. She did a short row heel and toe, and explained that you could create gusseted heels as well. She also allowed me to take some blurry iPhone photos and was more than happy to be peppered with questions by myself and all the others who were equally fascinated by it all. Her machine for the demo was set up with 64 needles, but I think that the machines can swap cylinders for say, 54, 60 or 72 needles depending on the machine and the accessories available. They can also utilize inner "ribber" cylinders for creating ribbing. Vintage circular sock knitting machines date back to the late 1800s and during World War I developed into a cottage industry as women knitted socks with them to send to the soldiers. The set-up does require a technical understanding of knitting and sock knitting in particular and I know the learning curve is steeper than it looks. Olive made it look easy.
So while continuing to knit socks by hand, I will now be on the lookout for one of these machines and will learn more about the new versions that are also available, although quite expensive. Hopefully someday I will be able to knit all those imagined socks with one, once I learn how to use and master it.