Thursday, November 29, 2012

Auto Knitter Made in Canada

Meet the Auto Knitter, a circular sock knitting machine from 1924.

An early Holiday gift from my father, and one that will put to great use, once I get it up and running.

Machines like this were very popular during and just after the first world war.  A person could buy a machine and a contract to produce socks.  Some companies even gave the machine on condition that the person would produce so many socks for free.  Sadly, many of these did not survive over time, often being melted for ammunition during the second world war.

This machine came with some excellent documentation, including the original contract and bill of sale.  In the year 1924, a Mrs. M. C. Russell of Malrose Ave. South, Hamilton, Ontario paid the sum of $60.85 for 1 duplex machine.  (if you are a descendent of Mrs Russell, feel free to get in touch, I can scan you a copy of the materials that reference her.  There are more details than what I'm posting here.  There is also material referencing a Mrs. W. Wilson of Emerald St. North, Hamilton who was a "successful worker in Hamilton" of the Auto Knitter Hosiery (Canada) Co. LTD.).

A worker, would be required to buy the yarn from the company, 2 and 1/2 lb of yarn making a dozen pairs of socks.  Then the company would buy the finished socks back from the 'knitter'.  Pretty cool cottage industry eh?

the spring holds the needles in place,
and this little bar thing holds the spring out of the way
when you need to work on several needles at once.

This machine is in fair condition.  There is some definite wear marks, but everything is here, including extra cylinders and ribbers.  It had been stored somewhere where it got saw dust on and in it.  Sawdust sticks to machinery like a red wine stain to a white shirt.  Things like sawdust and lint, then attract moisture, and moisture when combined with metal over time causes rust.  Lucky for me it wasn't too bad, but did need everything taken apart  cleaned and re-oiled.  A tedious and time consuming, but the kind of finicky repetitive work I love.

With everything cleaned and reassembled, it's time to cast on some knitting.

weird looking tool for casting on work
The amount of difficulty I've had trying to get the knitting started has helped me to understand why people didn't stop their work very often.  What they did was knit one sock, then a few rounds of waste yarn, then another sock, then some waste yarn... separating the socks at the waste yarn and finishing them by hand.  That way, if done correctly, they would be able to knit for years and never need to cast on.

from the auto knitter manual

from the auto knitter manual

I'm not the only one who has had trouble casting on.  Included in the documentation is a letter from the company providing extra advice.  But even following that advice, I can't get it to work.

I'm either all tangles or braking yarn.

Eventually I'll make it work, or perhaps find a mentor at the local machine knitting guild.  There don't seem to be many tutorials online, so now I have a good idea for a future post.


Anonymous said...

Have you managed to get it working yet ? if not, I can probably help - e-mail You can see a few seconds of one of my machines at

Nancy Woodworth-Hill said...

I just purchased one of these. It has serial number 2620. Any idea how old it is? Managed to get it set up and am practicing heels. I am excited about being able to make socks for my extended family. For now, more practice!

Dale Kurz said...

I have one like this from 1897 and I love it! I carted it around for 50 years in it's original box and now I am a cranker!

ryan said...

i have one of these in original shipping crate and am wondering a approx value

Mary Ann Wight said...

I'd love to have one of these.

Joyce H said...

I am looking at one sn 1332 and it was purchased on November 27th 1948. Have the warrenty card in the instructions (which are in French). I am looking for English instructions.