Since the New Lanark Conservation Trust was formed in 1974 we have acquired a number of objects either found during the restoration process or graciously donated by the public. Initially, we had no intention of creating a collection but have now managed to acquire a large collection of artefacts, books, archival documents, photographs, architectural drawings, and much more which are now all housed in the New Lanark Search Room. Each week, we will give you an up close and personal look at a featured item from our collection.
This week’s Search Room Spotlight: Sock Making Machine
This object is known as a sock knitting machine or circular knitting machine. It was donated by a woman whose husband purchased it in the 1980’s whilst he was working for a knitwear company, Lorne Knitwear in Kilmarkock. The machine is made to be clamped to a table, much like a vice. The main body of the machine is comprised of cast iron with metal needles used to thread the yarn from the top of the device into the bottom, forming a tube. The threading process is made possible by a separate piece attached to the top of the machine that threads the yarn into the device using a variety of gears that move using a hand crank that runs around the exterior of the device (please click the link for a full demonstration).
The exact make of the machine is unknown as there is no patent or any other indication of a company name. The previous owner had mentioned the name “Groz-Beckert” which is a German company that opened in the 1850’s specializing in the manufacturing of various parts for knitting/weaving machines such as needles. Although this may be a possibility, we have yet to uncover evidence to support this theory.
Circular knitting machines have been around since the early 1800’s when a French inventor Marc Brunel challenged the traditional flatbed knitting machines by arranging needles into a circular form. Since this development, there have been many alterations and improvements; more notably, Henry Griswold who was an American inventor that patented his own knitting machine in 1873 while visiting France and Britain. Since its invention, there have been many improvements such as a second set of needles to enable rib knitting and the cuff or welt for socks.
Knitting machines were used for mass production in English workhouses. It was also not uncommon to find children often using these machines as they were very efficient and quite compact. During the First World War the Red Cross urged the Home Front to knit socks for soldiers in order to prevent Trench Foot and machines such as these became an important part in the war effort. According to the previous owner, she believed it was used to make Argyll socks as well as socks for bandsmen. As New Lanark was known for its high quality cotton, knitting machines such as this would have used similar material to produce socks during the mid to late 1880s up until the second World War and are still used today by knitting enthusiasts.
VIDEO OF SOCK MAKING: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iVbPi0EAVoA
You can find out more about the New Lanark Search Room, and becoming an Archive Volunteer on the New Lanark website.
Holly – New Lanark Archive Intern