The Higham Circular Sock Knitting Machine

August 15th, 2016

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The Higham circular sock knitting machine set up in the Sunny Bank Mills Archive is an example of clever Victorian engineering.  It was made for fast mass production of socks and stockings possible in the new factories.  It also made the process accessible to ordinary people, many of whom were home workers who paid off the cost of the machine with free labour.

Staff here at Sunny Bank Mills however would have used the machine to make up samples of the fine yarns on offer, in order to show customers how yarns behaved before being woven.  Samples could also be knitted cheaply to test for colour fastness and to see colour eveness of a dyed cone of yarn.

Sock and stocking knitting machines were made of cast iron and were bolted onto a bench so the knitter could sit and operate the krank.  The thread is fed through the top and the tension adjusted to allow free running to the needles which catch the thread by the opening and closing of tiny latches. The Higham circular sock knitting machine in Sunny Bank Mills Archive, originating in Manchester but over the years has lost bits and developed a lot of damage.

This is an image of a restored Imperia complete with ribbing attachment – a more compact, easy to use and more popular make, though still English. CSMs continue to be in use by ‘krankers’ (a reference to the kranking arm motion that powers the machine), with a big following in America and New Zealand. Antique ones are worth considerably more now than in Victoria’s time.     This image below shows however how this clever piece of technology can even create a contemporary trainer sock made with added lycra.  Showing the fantastic staying power of this 100 year old piece of machinery.  This therefore gives hope that the example we have at Sunny Bank Mills may well, with a bit of love, be brought back to life in the future.

Written by Anne Donovan and Maggie Bellwood

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